Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Chicago Tribune: Meet Grant Park Orchestra's new 21-year-old wunderkind [Marlea Simpson from suburban Dallas]

Marlea Simpson, a viola player who recently joined the Grant Park Orchestra, rehearses Tuesday at Pritzker Pavillion.
(Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)

Marlea Simpson, shown at rehearsal Tuesday, participated in Project Inclusion, which aims to diversify orchestra ensembles, in 2014. 
(Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)

Heidi Stevens

July 1, 2016

If you're one of the 300,000 people estimated to take in a Grant Park Music Festival concert this summer, cast your gaze — and tune your ear — in the direction of the new viola player, a 21-year-old wunderkind who still has another year of college ahead of her.
Marlea Simpson, a native of suburban Dallas, first came to Chicago in 2014 to take part in Project Inclusion, a partnership between the Grant Park Music Festival and Chicago Sinfonietta that aims to diversify orchestra ensembles. She was a freshman at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio when an instructor encouraged her to apply, and she fell in love with Chicago at first sight.

"It was my first time really being by myself in a big city," she said. "I was living this professional life, playing with the quartet, living on my own. It was mind-blowing and eye-opening and just really an excellent experience."

Project Inclusion pairs young career musicians with Grant Park Orchestra professionals for one-on-one mentoring and lessons. The young musicians form a string quartet that performs at several Grant Park Music Festival concerts throughout the summer, and they also travel to parks around the city to perform for audiences that might not otherwise be exposed to live classical music.

"I was learning how to be a professional musician and also learning how to take our music out into the community," Simpson said. "That's something that isn't taught very often. We learn to play the right notes, but that taught me how to make music interesting and interactive and present it all over the city."
More recently, Simpson returned to Chicago to audition for a permanent spot in this season's Grant Park Orchestra.
"It's a blind audition, so no one had any idea it was Marlea behind the screen," Hilary Mercer, the Grant Park Music Festival's education and community engagement manager, told me. "When the committee realized it was her, everyone was so happy to have her back. She's such a go-getter, and she just absorbs everything."
Musicians vying for a spot in the Grant Park Orchestra go through two auditions, during which they play a concerto and excerpts from famous orchestra pieces.
"The committee is behind a screen," Mercer said. "They don't know if you're male, female, black, white, Asian. That's one way we erase everything from the board except what they're hearing."
One goal of Project Inclusion is to bring a diverse selection of applicants to those blind auditions.

No comments: