The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: High school conductor Mikko Utevsky discusses the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which makes its debut this Friday night in Vivaldi, Beethoven and Borodin | June 15, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) will present its premier concert on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 7:00 PM in Mills Hall in the UW-Madison Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.

The program, led by Madison East High senior, Mikko Utevsky, will consist of Alexander Borodin’s Overture to “Prince Igor”; Vivaldi’s “Summer” concerto from “The Four Seasons,” featuring Madison Symphony Orchestra co-concertmaster Suzanne Beia (below); and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Admission is $5 for adults; students are free. Donations will be accepted.

Mikko Utevski (below, in a photo by Steve Rankin who took all the photos here except for that of Suzanne Beia) recently spoke via e-mail about the concert, the orchestra members and himself:

What can you tell us about yourself and the orchestra?

I’m a violist who just completed his junior year at at East High School. I’ve played for eight years or so and I’ve been in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for five years. I studied composition for a number of years and moved from there to conducting.

I’ve studied to varying degrees with my school orchestra director, Jackie Dhoore-Becker whose husband David Becker directs the orchestras at Lawrence University in Appleton; with Matthew Schlomer, the Graduate Assistant Conductor of the UW Band; and with Thomas Buchhauser, whom I played under in WYSO for a year.

The MAYCO orchestra is made up of high school and college students from all around the Madison area. I met most through WYSO (below), though many heard about the program through others.

How many members are there are what are their ages?

We have about 50 players, ranging throughout high school with a few college students. There is one adult, an old friend, playing continuo for the Vivaldi.

Do you all come from East High School?

Not at all. I believe there are two other East students in the orchestra; most are from other high schools throughout the city and surrounding area.


How did the orchestra get started and why?

I got into conducting through score study. I studied composition for about three years before realizing I preferred studying scores to writing my own. I started realizing that if I wanted to conduct, I needed an ensemble, because there’s only so much you can practice in front of a mirror. I’d never seriously thought about starting one until last June.

Last summer, I played in the Wisconsin State Honors Orchestra. I met a student there named Isaac Young, from Waukesha, who has been running a similar program there for four years now (the Waukesha Area Chamber Orchestra, or WACO). He convinced me that it was possible, and I spent the rest of the summer planning a program and recruiting musicians.

The model is based on the Honors program and UW Music Clinic, or any summer festival, really. We have a brief, intensive rehearsal period, followed by a concert.

I think there’s a place for a program like this here, not because we’re strapped for choices in classical music but because it’s totally student-run. It’s not so much a camp or a class as it is a group of people getting together to teach each other. It’s a tremendous learning experience for me as a conductor, and I hope it is as valuable for every player as well.

How does it operate? Do you lead it and choose repertoire? Or is it more of a cooperative group?

As a student, I don’t have the clout of a professional teacher or conductor, nor do I have their experience. For some aspects of performance – bowings, for example (below) – I will try to work with the orchestra to find the best way to play a passage.

As to what “best” might mean for a particular piece or passage, that is unfortunately somewhat impractical to decide democratically in a 50-piece chamber orchestra.

That’s where my job starts, really. Here, as in any orchestra, the conductor must try to coax a unified vision of the piece out of players with differing backgrounds, opinions, and technical abilities.

Programming was unfortunately dictated by instrumentation, which has been pretty much constantly changing since the first day of recruiting, although I have tried to get as much input on that as I could.

Things like seating have been determined partially based on where musicians sit in WYSO (for those who are members) and partially on trying to extend opportunities to all players. Winds and brass rotate, for example, to allow multiple people to play principal.

What can you tell us about the works on the inaugural program, especially the Beethoven Symphony and why they were chosen?

The piece by Borodin (below) was both an easy choice and a hard one. I thought about a number of different overtures, and they were all wonderful pieces, but I just love the Russian style. “Prince Igor” is a bright, vivacious piece, full of verve and Russian soul. It also provides an excellent opportunity for the full brass section to have some fun, to give every player who signed up a chance to play. Fun doesn’t mean easy, though.

The violin concerto by Vivaldi makes for a very sharp contrast with the works on either side, but it gives us a chance to cultivate a more Baroque sound, lets the winds rest, and most importantly, allows us to bring in a fantastic soloist. I’ve studied with Suzanne Beia (below) for two years now as a chamber music coach, and she’s a brilliant musician and a wonderful person. I am really looking forward to working with her as a soloist.

Beethoven’s Fifth was part of my vision for this project when I first started planning it, and although I toyed with replacing it, some of the players talked me out of it.

It’s the classic warhorse of the repertoire — everyone has to play it at some point, and everyone knows it, which cuts down on the time needed to learn it. I love the piece, and I’m really looking forward to working on it this week.

Unfortunately, certain readings have become so popular that the way some passages are played has little resemblance to how Beethoven  (below) wrote them. Take the opening, for example. It’s often played very slowly, and a bit like a triplet (with emphasis on the first note), with a big rest after the fermata. But that’s not what’s in the score. Those notes are upbeats to the fermata, and there’s only an eighth rest before the next “da-da-da-DUM” arrives.

What do future plans and concerts for the orchestra include?

Part of the nature of the program is that it’s only one-week long. Scheduling regular rehearsals over a longer period is simply impossible for an organization of this size and nature – during the year people are too busy, and in the summer people leave town.

I’d like to do this again next summer, and I’m hoping the musicians will enjoy it enough to return. Many of them are leaving for college this fall, so I may have to recruit from next year’s WYSO players once again, but I hope some will come back to Madison to play next year.

I will be a senior in the fall, but in the back of my mind I have this notion that I might continue organizing this in college for the next several years.

What do you and others think about the role of arts education and why it is important?

I started playing in school. If it weren’t for my music teacher at Marquette Elementary School, Jason Jacobs, I’d never have picked up the viola, and none of this would have happened.

The work school music teachers do is incredibly difficult, important, and under-appreciated. Not everyone can afford to study privately, and it’s school music curricula that make it an art anyone can pursue.

Organizations like WYSO (below) are equally important. I’d never have played in a symphony orchestra without WYSO, nor have gotten into chamber music at all. The opportunity to work with other dedicated students and with such phenomenal conductors is really extraordinary.

Is there more you would like to say about yourself or the group?

Personally, I want to major in music – get a bachelor’s degree in viola performance and a Master’s in conducting. Among the ensemble, we have a huge range of interests, from music majors to neuroscientists, engineers, librarians and doctors. I think they are all great musicians, and will certainly be great at whatever they choose to pursue after this. I do hope they come back next year, though.

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Posted in Classical music

5 Comments »

  1. Mikko-
    You are very talented and can make a difference to the musical world.

    Comment by Anonymus — October 16, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

  2. Mikko is also a Madison Opera High School Apprentice. I can attest to what is made obvious here, that he is a pretty incredible kid!
    -Brian

    Comment by Brian H — June 15, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for rounding out the portrait a clearly and deeply talented young Madison musician.
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — June 15, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  3. [...] Follow this link: Classical music Q&A: High school conductor Mikko Utevsky discusses … [...]

    Pingback by Classical music Q&A: High school conductor Mikko Utevsky discusses … | Best Education Website — June 15, 2011 @ 8:19 am


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