Alexis Smith

Recent Posts

Jun 12 2018

Kathleen McDermott: Divas as Pioneers of Women's Rights Through Grit and Spectacle

Posted by Alexis Smith on Jun 12, 2018 3:58:34 PM | 1 comment | Interviews

Today, the term diva has pejorative connotations as someone who is temperamental or hard to work with or self-absorbed and uncompromising. Yet in the classical world, divas were goddesses. Literally. In Latin, diva means “goddess.” In my opinion, divas were bad-ass bosses who fought tooth and nail to survive. They were larger-than-life women because they had few legal or economic protections. They were idolized onstage but treated as social outcasts in person. A man could have a diva mistress but never marry her. There’s the famous story of diva Adelina Patti being pursued by a prince who, for an entire season, night after night sent her jeweled brooches, necklaces, or bracelets with the note: “It is I. It is I again. It is always.” Yet jewels were always more than shallow display for divas; gems were an integral part of their life savings.

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Jun 01 2018

Mark Gould: Orchestra Confidential

Posted by Alexis Smith on Jun 1, 2018 11:19:16 AM | 0 comments

When I was a kid, Harry Potter was all of the rage and with it, trying to typecast yourself in specific Hogwarts houses—was I brainy like a Ravenclaw, conniving like a Slytherin, or maybe brave like a Gryffindor? Hopefully anything but silly Hufflepuff.  My friends and I obsessed about it until we realized that we were band geeks and in lieu of having any sort of social status, we had something almost as good: a predetermined ratings system in the form of instrumental stereotypes. (Maybe I was a Hufflepuff after all.)

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May 25 2018

Dawn Simmons: Lifting Up a Community Through the Diaspora

Posted by Alexis Smith on May 25, 2018 5:02:09 PM | 0 comments | Interviews

Last week, I had the chance to talk with Betsi Graves, director of Urbanity Dance, and we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of collaborating with artists across various fields. Why would she be the one designing a costume, when Boston is so filled with incredibly talented costume designers? Why pay a high fee to use the rights to a pop song and choreograph a dance to it when you can find a fantastic Boston-based composer who is looking to work with a dance company? Why not collaborate and challenge each other stretch the ways of thinking? To create something greater than you previously imagined you could do?

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May 15 2018

Urbanity Dance: Creating Symbiosis and Community

Posted by Alexis Smith on May 15, 2018 3:04:58 PM | 0 comments | Interviews

One of the themes of this blog and the interviews that it runs, is the theme of having to do a little bit of everything. Whether it was Phoenix Artistic Director Matt Szymanski talking about how to juggle conducting with social media marketing, Ryan Lott talking about understanding classical music as a way to enrich his electronic samples, or soprano Julia Bullock bringing a program of both Schumann and Nina Simone to the concert stage, it seems that variety is the spice of art. Artists and non-artists alike are lucky to be in such a hub as Boston, where everywhere you look, people are curious and hungry for more. Coming from New York, I think of Boston as a town on steroids, we have all of the industry and niche pockets of a city, but somehow Boston has a smaller, more neighborhood feel. Boston has an ecosystem built out of neighborhoods and networks rather than an ecosystem built out of the individual. To me (and this is just my own personal speculation), this creates a more fertile ground for creativity.

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May 09 2018

Building a Bridge Instead of a Wall

Posted by Alexis Smith on May 9, 2018 4:18:44 PM | 0 comments | Interviews

What do musicians do if they’re extroverts? When your profession requires you to be alone roughly eight hours a day, how does an extrovert not go crazy? For Lina Gonzales-Granados, the solution came in the form of becoming a conductor. Originally a pianist, the Columbian-born conductor realized at a very young age that she needed to be around people so she looked for the musical profession that involved the most amount of people and she found conducting.

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May 04 2018

"Never look at the trombones; it only encourages them."

Posted by Alexis Smith on May 4, 2018 10:43:47 AM | 0 comments | Interviews

Trombone often gets a bad rap. Whether it’s thought of as the teacher’s voice in the old Charlie Brown cartoons or as the sad trombone sound effect, I think we can all agree that sometimes the trombone is seen as the instrumental buffoon. I, a trombonist, was once offered $200 to follow a fat guy around and mock him à la Family Guy. (Seriously, I went to Juilliard for this.) Unbeknownst to most people, composers revered the trombone, using it to depict solemnity, death, and the depths of Hell. Felix Mendelssohn is quoted with the saying, “The trombone is too sacred for frequent use.” and even Beethoven likened the trombone to the “Voice of God”. Maybe these guys were hacks, but history doesn’t seem to think so.

That’s where the Boston Trombone Project comes in. Established just last year, the Boston Trombone Project aims to act as an ambassador for the trombone and expand awareness of just how versatile the trombone can be. This week, I sat down with Dr. Mike Tybursky and Alex Knutrud to talk about the upcoming Boston Trombone Project concert being performed on May 7 at 7pm in Cambridge, oh—and yours truly will be performing a solo in it!

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Apr 30 2018

Julia Bullock: A Chantress Across the Ages

Posted by Alexis Smith on Apr 30, 2018 2:37:30 PM | 0 comments | Interviews

Fresh from her Boston Symphony Orchestra debut and San Francisco Opera debut earlier this season, soprano Julia Bullock is the opera world's rising star. Having grown up listening to Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, this Juilliard graduate deftly delivers fresh, impassioned perspectives to both Mozart and Billie Holiday. Between preforming in New York and preparing for her upcoming Boston recital, Julia took some time to talk to us about discipline, storytelling, and why she doesn't want to be thought of as a crossover artist. 

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Apr 25 2018

Much Ado About Gender

Posted by Alexis Smith on Apr 25, 2018 10:25:25 AM | 0 comments | Interviews

If you’re anything like me, the words thou, thine, and thither immediately make your palms sweat, thinking of deciphering the iambic pentameter cadence of William Shakespeare in high school. My brain immediately shuts down thinking of men in tights and women in corsets so tight, they’d make Photoshop jealous. I never understood why such antiquated wording elicited the reverence of the academic community. Shakespeare was like a literary Emperor’s New Clothes to me. My suspicion that I was not the only one like this were recently confirmed when I sat down to talk with Christopher Edwards, the recently appointed Artistic Director for Actors' Shakespeare Project.

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Apr 11 2018

Donkeys, Phoenixes, and William Shakespeare

Posted by Alexis Smith on Apr 11, 2018 1:03:29 PM | 0 comments | Interviews

When you think of an artist, you might think of musicians or painters or dancers who live and breathe their craft and only their craft. I'm sure we're all familiar with the romantic story of artists who live and die by their craft. Maybe you think of an impoverished Van Gogh who was forced to eat his paints or maybe you think of Kafka who quit his job as an insurance officer to have more time to write. Today the modern artist must be a one-person cooperation, both a savvy businessperson and marketing executive. In a society that's increasingly moving towards self-starting and publication, an artist must think of more than just their craft.

Matthew Szymanski, founder and Music Director of Phoenix Orchestra, sat down with us to talk about building an orchestra from it's brand up. In building Phoenix, the former euphonium player turned conductor has had to strip away all of the traditional trimmings of a classical music concert and learn how to run a business while the orchestral world upside down.

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Apr 09 2018

Protest Without Words: Husa's Music for Prague 1968

Posted by Alexis Smith on Apr 9, 2018 2:56:37 PM | 0 comments

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to put on records of her favorite Mozart piano concerto or favorite Haydn symphonies. Occasionally, during rainy days, on would slip some Beethoven or even Brahms. Growing up, classical music (the title I gave to all music that didn’t have a rock beat or any music that had a soothing, vaguely soporific effect—yeah, I’m even looking at you, Enya!) was meant to be enjoyed in the background. It was meant to accompany your day to day activities, blending in seamlessly with cooking or doing the Sunday morning crossword. Mozart somehow softened the blow that I didn’t know 27 across: "Literary pseudonym (four letters)." Fast forward many, but not too many, years later and I’m a professional musician acting as an air siren. Behind me is a snare drum playing a crescendo that is supposed to be become “unbearable.” Literally. In his part he is literally asked to play louder and louder until the volume becomes unbearable. What is going on here?

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