NRO strikes first chord in Breckenridge |

NRO strikes first chord in Breckenridge

After earning his graduate degree from Julliard, bassist Maurice Belle has returned to the National Repertory Orchestra for his second summer. The first year, he built his orchestral repertoire, learning to manage his time to play an entire orchestral season (29 concerts) in less than two months. This time around, he’s focusing on mastering leadership skills as co-principal.

“I’m pretty much it, so I have to be alert every time and stay on point,” Belle said. “It’s not easy. You just have to know your part way in advance.”

The National Repertory Orchestra has garnered a worldwide reputation for preparing some of the finest young musicians for professional careers through its eight-week rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule. By August the musicians develop “strong skills under pressure and have brought their musicianship to new heights,” according to the NRO website.

“Once again, the young musicians selected for the National Repertory Orchestra will experience one of this country’s most challenging and rewarding musical performing experiences as they prepare for professional orchestral careers,” said executive director Ken Toltz. “We are very proud that over its 50-year history, the National Repertory Orchestra has served as a critical training experience for over 4,000 alumni musicians, many of whom now perform in our country’s finest professional orchestras.”

As Brad Broomfield, percussionist, light-heartedly put it: “It helps because it’s pretty close to being a professional, besides the fact that we’re not getting paid.”

While some musicians have an opportunity to return to the NRO a second time, percussionists only have one shot, since there are so few positions available. Jeff Otto waited until he finished his doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin.

“This is a really good opportunity to hit a lot of big pieces and a chance to get out of the practice room and get into the orchestra and see how the piece goes,” Otto said.

He also admitted it looks good on resumes, adding, “it’s high up on the food chain. It’s a good eye-catcher. Pretty much everyone auditions, at least for percussion.”

Maestro Carl Topilow auditions more than 800 musicians nationwide. Odds are one in 10 to earn a position, said Stephanie Rauhut, an intern working in media relations.

“Our musicians are surely among the best and brightest young instrumentalists in the world,” said Carl Topilow. “Winning a position with the NRO is in itself a great accomplishment.”

Topilow has led the orchestra for 33 years, and his expertise is extremely valuable. He gives clear direction, explaining his vision and ideas for each piece and how to execute it, Otto said.

“I like how he navigates the traffic,” said cellist Mark Yee, who studied with Topilow at Cleveland Institute of Music as a graduate student.

“He has a great rehearsal technique, and he has a lot of insight into the music,” said bass trombonist Callan Milani. “It gives me a better insight about the nuts and bolts of everything – the style, the sound, the energy and everything in-between.”

And though Topilow has been rehearsing pieces for decades, he’s still open to change and new ideas, Broomfield said. For example, in rehearsing “Firebird Suite,” Topilow instructed the strings to use a down-bowing method – something different – to help them keep time. Of course, the musicians responded brilliantly.

“Everyone’s really focused, on top of it and learning their parts,” Yee said.

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