Artist Interview Series: Orchestra Manager and Clarinetist, Calvin Falwell

You have put together the Ash Lawn / Charlottesville Opera from national auditions for six years.  How do you spread the word to attract high level players and how do they audition?

Yes, this my sixth year as orchestra manager and I have loved every minute of it!  When we have an opening in the orchestra I make sure to get the word out to as many orchestras as possible.  Over the years I have compiled a list of over 100 personnel managers from various orchestras around the country.  As the company has grown over the years so has the orchestra. When an opening does occur I have noticed that the number of applicants has grown along with the overall quality.  Additionally, we rely on word of mouth from our regular festival musicians. This is very important since the orchestra is the musical backbone of the production.  If you sacrifice quality in the orchestra it can really drag the overall production down.  So, it is imperative that we find the best players. 

What are you looking for in a player?
There are a number of things that we look for in a player.  The most essential areas are rhythm, intonation (pitch) and sound.  If the player is deficient one of these areas then we will not be inclined to hire them.  Finally, experience and solid references are a absolute must.  

I'm sure you'd agree that the level of the orchestra improves every year -- do most players want to return to C'ville?
We have an excellent retention rate of 90%.  We also allow our regular players to choose one production if they are unable to stay for the entire summer.  This final part is important because we want to retain the best players as we can, so we try to offer flexibility.  In the last few years we have started offering competitive contracts that matches with many companies of the same size. This last part is key to optimal retention. 

When the orchestra is not rehearsing or performing, is there a camaraderie or do orchestral musicians prefer privacy and solitude?
Absolutely, we enjoy hanging out!  We enjoy hiking, running, cycling and exploring the areas many wineries.  Not to mention C'Ville's excellent restaurant scene. Each summer musicians hold chamber music parties and read thought some of the great works for our instruments. Personally, I am an avid cyclist so I try to ride at leas 1000-1200 miles during the summer. Charlottesville is an amazing place for outdoor activities and each year I look forward to it!

In addition to contracting the orchestra, you play the clarinet and the bass clarinet. What is the difference between those two instruments and what pieces have important parts for the bass clarinet?

The big difference is that the bass clarinet is an octave lower than the Bb Clarinet.  I like to think of the bass clarinet as the "Barry White" of the orchestra.  When the bass clarinet has a solo it is usually to add another level of depth/color to the scene.  Some of my favorite parts to play are works by Mahler, Wagner, Puccini, Copland and Strauss.  Fun fact, I have commissioned 6 concertos for bass clarinet and orchestra and recorded a CD featuring three of them.  The Concerto by composer Todd Goodman actually won the American Prize for Composition in 2014 and I recently performed that work with the National Symphony of Guatemala.