Artist Interview: ECCO

By jwoods on December 22, 2011

For our sixth artist interview of the season, members of ECCO (East Coast Chamber Orchestra) were gracious enough to sit down and answer a few questions about the group's upcoming program at the Independence Seaport Museum. Here are their answers. I hope they help to illuminate the artists behind the music, and that learning a bit more about this program inspires you to attend ECCO's concert on January 6th at 8 pm.



Juliet Woods:  How did this program come together? Why did you choose these particular pieces?

ECCO:  This program honors four masterful geniuses: Schoenberg, Beethoven, Britten, and Dvorak. Each has an exceptionally distinct musical voice, yet this program highlights the compatibility and interplay between their works. Schoenberg in his "old style" will serve as the opening act for the Beethoven Grosse Fugue, which will seem even more avante-garde in comparison. Britten will show us his own take on a fugal composition after intermission, and Dvorak's romanticism will serenade us home.

JW:  Many of the musicians in ECCO are also members of world-renowned symphony orchestras. What adjustments do you have to make when transitioning from playing in a larger group to a more intimate one like ECCO?

ECCO:  Playing in a major symphony and playing in an intimate group like ECCO both present unique challenges. In a full orchestra, the string sections are larger and must work together with brass, winds, and percussion to play as one body. ECCO’s conductor-less approach, smaller section size, and emphasis on each individual's voice affords a more intimate and flexible playing experience. While we prepare equally hard for both roles, ECCO members must add a conductor's responsibilities to their own and oftentimes lead in a way that isn't necessarily appropriate inside a larger group. After a week with ECCO, my hands are exhausted, my ears are sharpened, and my counting is extra diligent!

JW:  What techniques do you use instead of a conductor in order to stay together?

ECCO:  As a conductor-less ensemble, the members of ECCO all take an active role in both leading and following each other. One of the joys and challenges of playing in ECCO is that everyone has to be involved and invested in order for the group to stay together. The leader of each section might give the cues, but it doesn't work unless everyone is actively breathing together and leading each other from every part of the orchestra. As a result, there is a lot of visual contact within sections and between all members of the group. In essence, we are all conducting each other. We have gotten to know each other so well over the years that we’ve all become quite skilled at reading each other’s body language, and sometimes each other’s thoughts!

JW:  With 17 musicians — all with various career demands and many based in different cities — how challenging is it to get the group together for performances, let alone rehearsals?

ECCO:  With so many of us in so many different places, it’s definitely challenging! Our individual schedules are just as varied as our career paths, so we try our best to set aside time for ECCO almost two years in advance. For many of us, that might mean taking an unpaid week away from work, or having to say no to more lucrative concerts. Our core group of members is over 17, so if someone cannot play a concert then hopefully another member can. The time we spend together is always intense. Sometimes we turn our rehearsal periods into mini-retreats during which we actually live together in one or two big houses. We rehearse from morning until night, and we cook, eat, wash dishes, relax, and party together. There are always ongoing group discussions, the topics of which range from “who feels like we deserve a night off?” to the joys and tribulations of self-governance. ECCO periods are total immersion. There is no end to the passion we feel for the music we are making, and we are excited and grateful that we get to explore it together in such depth — an opportunity we don’t always have in other parts of our musical lives.

ECCO appears on Friday, January 6th at 8 pm at the Independence Seaport Museum. For tickets and information, visit the concert page or call 215-569-8080.