Long Beach Symphony’s Concertmaster Roger Wilkie to Solo on November 9
2013-11-04 · By Editor
Over his two-decade career with the Long Beach Symphony, Concertmaster Roger Wilkie has soloed many times, and on Saturday, November 9, at 8:00 p.m., he will once again take center stage at the Terrace Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center in the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D, known for its demanding pace. “I think the Sibelius concerto has great emotional depth as well as brilliant writing for the violin,” says Wilkie. “It is considered one of the greatest romantic violin concertos ever written and has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I played it with the Long Beach Symphony in 1994 or 95. It is exciting to find new ways of approaching it both musically and technically.” The concert also includes Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #6-Pathetique.
Mr. Wilkie, whose credentials extend to the Hollywood Studios, has participated in soundtracks for over 1000 films and served as Concertmaster for John Williams’ scores for “Indiana Jones IV” and “Memoirs of a Geisha”, among others. His playing has been described by the LA Times as, “surpassing virtuosity, a thrilling legato tone, and a sense of full emotional engagement.”
Wilkie remembers from an early age that there was always lots of music in the house where he grew up in Los Angeles. His parents, both members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, were audio/stereo buffs; music from their extensive recording collection wafted through the air on a daily basis. Roger, too, enjoyed listening to music; but unlike most kids, who were playing the Alphabet Song and The Bear Went Over the Mountain, his favorite recordings included Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Paul Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
When Roger was 7 years old, his mother decided it was time for piano lessons, but to her chagrin, Roger was, in this way, like most kids: he preferred playing outside with friends over the drudgery of piano practice. It wasn’t until he was 12, that music took a direction in Wilkie’s life. While attending a Los Angeles Master Chorale concert in which his parents were singing, Roger heard a movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and he was smitten. According to his mother, Roger subsequently announced that he wanted to be a concert violinist. (Roger disputes use of the term “concert violinist,” but emphasizes that his mother is adamant about that part of the story). Putting details aside, when Roger returned from school the following day, there was a violin. As they say, the rest is history.
Mr. Wilkie’s professional career began in 1983, when at the age of 21 he joined the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. This experience led to other opportunities as guest concertmaster with prominent groups, such as the Los Angeles Opera. In 1990, Roger accepted the position of Concertmaster with the Long Beach Symphony. When asked about the biggest triumph in his career, Wilkie recalls that in his first or second year with the symphony, “they had booked a violinist to play the Mendelssohn concerto, and he had to drop out a few days before. Joann Falletta, who was Maestro at that time, asked me to step in. I was 29; it was a big vote of confidence for me.”
Many people think that the Concertmaster’s role is to play the solo violin parts and tune up the orchestra at the beginning of the concert, but Wilkie points out two more important responsibilities. On a pragmatic level, the Concertmaster determines the bowings for the violin parts and writes these into the music. So the fact that violinists all bow in the same direction in beautiful symmetry, is not coincidental. But the role that Wilkie finds most important is that of his overall demeanor and physical engagement during a performance. “I must respond to the conductor”, he explains; “if I am unsure, it creates insecurity throughout the (violin) section. I must play in a decisive way – even physically – in order to ensure that the others feel confident.”
Wilkie is in great demand as a chamber musician. He was a founding member of the Angeles String Quartet, and is currently a member of the Pacific Trio, with which he has toured both nationally and internationally. He describes his 25-year tenure with the Long Beach Symphony as “a place I consider home. I have a soft spot for it, and the musicians are excellent. It also affords me the ability to do a lot of chamber music and commercial work – it gives me flexibility and diversity. The repertoires for orchestral and chamber music are completely different, and I enjoy that.”
Classical music’s struggle to build audiences is one that orchestras around the world face. Roger commented on this situation: “I think many people make the mistake of listening to something once and immediately forming an opinion about it. Or, maybe they heard a classical work once as a child and were bored by it, so they have never tried it again. Just like you might have tried a food as a child that you didn’t like, it’s important to try things again. Sometimes when I first hear a new work, it doesn’t speak to me, but after listening several times I change my opinion. I wish classical music could be played in the schools on a daily basis so that students could develop an appreciation for it. For example, if students heard the same piece for several days in a row, that work would become familiar to them.”
To purchase tickets for the November 9 Long Beach Symphony Classics concert showcasing Mr. Wilkie, please call 562-436-3203, ext. 1 or visit the symphony website: www.lbso.org.