Interviews and video: OKC Philharmonic concertmaster Gregory Lee to be featured soloist for 2018-19 season finale
A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
A finale for all seasons: OKC Philharmonic concertmaster Gregory Lee to be featured in season finale
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic will explore all four seasons in its 2018-19 Classics season finale.
“Vivaldi wrote over 400 concertos - so many - but ‘The Four Seasons’ is the most famous and recognizable,” said Gregory Lee, the orchestra’s principal first violinist. “This is the first time it’s going to be played in our Classics series, which is amazing to me. … I just love the way Vivaldi is able to make the violin sound so virtuosic and brilliant but still in the baroque style. So, that’s something that is definitely unique about this piece in a concert.”
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- Video: OKC Philharmonic concertmaster Gregory Lee
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s longtime concertmaster, Lee will take his place in the sun during Saturday night’s performance as the soloist on “The Four Seasons.” Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate has paired the Italian composer’s iconic 1725 tone poem on the program with Brahms’ “Symphony No. 1 in C minor.”
“To highlight a piece’s revolutionary character – like in this case, the Brahms first symphony – I like to then pair it with something much earlier. I could have done like a Mozart and Hayden, but in this case, I liked to go further out and have this kind of baroque angle … and then we create a contrast between the two,” Mickelthwate said. “(Gregory is) a great player, and then he’s just really, really helpful. He’s a good leader.”
Stepping into the spotlight
A native of Australia, Lee joined the OKC Philharmonic as concertmaster, a title given to the principal first violinist, 12 years ago, at roughly the same time he joined the music faculty at the University of Oklahoma.
“The concertmaster is sort of a role that has had a long tradition. I think before there was a conductor, the concertmaster would lead the orchestra. But now I serve as a liaison between the orchestra and the conductor, especially with the string section. I might help with doing bowings or letting the orchestra know which part of the bow to play in … and, of course, tuning the orchestra,” Lee said. “I came here to teach at OU, teach violin, and the concertmaster opening happened to come up. So, I was fortunate to be able to audition for that the same year I came in.”
While he loved working with the philharmonic’s founder and music director emeritus Joel Levine, Lee said he is honored to be the soloist at final concert of Mickelthwate’s debut season as music director.
“It’s definitely very exciting. I don’t do this very often, being a soloist, and it’s great to be doing it in front of my own orchestra. … The orchestra is so supportive and kind and friendly, and I’m very fortunate to be able to be in an environment like that,” said Lee, adding that his parents are traveling from Australia for Saturday’s concert. “Alexander’s often bringing in and playing pieces we’ve never done before or being a little more adventurous. I sometimes wonder, ‘How’s the audience gonna react?’ But the audience seems to have really been accepting and really enjoy what we’ve done so far.
Playing an iconic piece
A pop culture favorite, Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” has been adapted to jazz, techno, tango and rock stylings and featured in an array of ideo games, movie trailers and TV shows. Violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy’s 1989 recording of it with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1989 sold more than 2 million copies to become one of the best-selling classical recordings ever released.
“This piece can play in so many different ways. There’s so many ways to interpret it,” Lee said. “It’s always trick to find a balance between wanting to play it in a style that has some reflection of performance practice - I think that’s sort of been the trend that last 20, 30 years is to play it in some influence of how it was played back then – but also have a more contemporary, 21st-century take on it.”
Even if the music is already familiar to them, Lee said he believes that concertgoers will be astounded with how much more powerful the “Seasons” are when experienced live.
“There’s that sort of invisible interaction, I guess, that you feel with being a performer and also being in the audience. It definitely feels different performing for a full house, as we usually do get here, and hopefully the audience will also feel like it’s a different experience than just turning on a CD,” he said.
Oklahoma City Philharmonic featuring violinist Gregory Lee
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
Tickets and information: www.okcphil.org or call 842-5387.