Dec 4, 2015
by Jim Krencik, The Daily News
BATAVIA â The holidays are a time to gather around a table with beloved people, dishes and songs.
Thatâs the spirit that Yunn-Shan Ma wanted to bring to her role as guest conductor for the Genesee Symphony Orchestraâs âHoliday Feastâ.
Ma, a doctoral candidate at the Eastman School of Music and an instructor at the Hobart and William Smith Colleges, didnât want to approach the show as a Christmas concert, because of the universal feeling of the season that crosses faiths and backgrounds.
âSince most of us spend time with family and friends on holidays, I wanted to come up with a program that is not only filled with holiday spirits, but also providing various genres, styles of music to be true feast,â Ma said.
Thinking about a program âthat speaks for everybody,â she turned to the tales, operas, images and movies that fit the seasonâs spirit.
They range from 19th century Russian operas â Rimsky-Korsakovâs âSnowmaiden Suiteâ and Glinkaâs âOverture to Russlan and Ludmillaâ â American Leonard Bernsteinâs âOverture to Candideâ and Austrian Joseph Haydnâs âCello Concerto No.1 in C Majorâ.
The feast will be served at 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Maryâs Church, 18 Ellicott St.
A native of Taiwan, Ma received early musical training in piano and violin as a child. At 11, her family moved to Vienna, where she won an audition to study at a prestigious pre-college program.
She received bachelorâs and masterâs degrees in Taiwan before moving to the U.S. as a doctoral student at the Eastman School of Music, where she leads and participates in a multitude of collegiate ensembles. Ma has guest conducted the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Syracuse Vocal Ensemble and the Taiwan Film Music Production in New York City; and directs the Taiwanese Choral Society of Rochester.
Coming from a small island nation, Ma said sheâs been lucky to have so many opportunities around the world. Those experiences have helped her handle a schedule that splits her between Batavia, Rochester and Geneva.
âI try to gain as many experiences as I can,â said Ma, who doesnât have the time to desire to consider herself busy. âI think itâs passion ... because we choose what we want to do.â
In the GSO, Ma sees a group that has chosen to commit to a shared passion.
With her collegiate ensembles, Ma said she tries to describe the personal feeling she wants, and it can be harder to hit unfamiliar themes. Her discussions and conversations with the orchestraâs musicians are about more than just playing the notes. Theyâre making music.
âBecause of having people from everywhere in community, from different jobs and musical (backgrounds), you hear their souls and their hearts,â Ma said. âThatâs whatâs amazing working with GSO.â
As one of the four guest conductors selected for this seasonâs concerts, Ma was able to do more than build the music. She was able to bring in performers like Lars Kirvan, an RPO cellist who joined the GSOâs practice Monday. Kirvanâs musical style and ability to play a challenging instrument with seemingly effortless ability was well-received.
Jeremy Hill, an active soloist and chamber musician with the RPO, and the Syracuse Symphony, will he at Maâs side as the GSOâs guest concertmaster. Hill, a string player, is tasked with putting the orchestraâs pitch to perfection before the show.
The GSOâs version of the âPolar Express Concert Suiteâ will present six passages from the 2004 film, with Oakfield-Alabamaâs fifth- and sixth-grade chorus singing a newly-transcribed vocal part. Ma is meeting those students Thursday.
âTo be lucky enough to do this concert, to perform with the GSO, with Lars, the chorus ... thatâs already for me, the greatest experience.â
Each of this seasonâs guest conductors are finalists to become the orchestraâs permanent conductor.
Itâs an unique position, being the only person not making sound but carrying all of the music within you. Ma said she sees it as her duty to communicate with the performers, âwho is doing what, how do we want to present a certain passage, whom to listen for.â
Ma said her goal is always to make the most of her opportunities. Itâs been a worthwhile experience, regardless of where it goes after Sunday.
âThe most precious moment for me is when I see sparkles in the musiciansâ eyes after rehearsals,â she said after Mondayâs practice. âI know that we are going to have a great time, a great performance, because we feel good and we are ready to share.â