Monday, November 30, 2009

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!

Happy holidays, music lovers! I'm so excited about Saturday's concert at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre. Not only is "The Nutcracker" one of my favorites, but we get the original and a special treat -- the Duke Ellington version! To get more information, go to the Website.

I'm having trouble finding Duke YouTube videos, but here's a version of the Duke Ellington band doing "Jingle Bells:"

Here's Duke and his band doing "Don't Mean a Thing:"

And, finally, Ellington's version of "The Nutcracker," as performed by the U.S. Army Blues Band:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Violin soloist prepares for the variety and fun of the Nov. 14 concert with the ASO

Violinist Olivia Haijoff says preparing for the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra's Nov. 14 performance at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall has been both challenging and comforting.

The playlist includes one of her favorite pieces to play – Arnold's "Concerto for Two Violins," and something she’d never even heard before, Piazzolla's "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires."

"I think this is a particularly good program; there is so much variety, the pieces are really fun, and there's nothing to be scared by -- everyone is familiar with the Vivaldi; the Piazzolla is really fun; the Arnold is short, and has a rhythmic quirkiness, when we've played it to audiences before, they really love it and find it interesting … the middle movement is very sensual, slinky and special…. And the Brahms is really warm. It's not the usual thing."

Haijoff will be performing, as always, with her husband, Marc Ramirez. The couple have been married since 1997. They live and teach violin in Vienna, Va., and met while studying violin at the University of Maryland. She came to the U.S. from England on a Fulbright Scholarship.

"We met in the violin class," she said. "He was nice to me after I played."
Haijoff said both she and her husband grew up with musicians in the family and came to the violin early on. She was 4 when her mother, a harpsichordist, took her to a concert, and Ramirez was 7 when a violinist performed for a small party at his parents' home. Both his parents, Connie and Abad Ramirez, had at one time served as president of the Arlington Symphony.

Both Ramirez and Haijoff are also past winners of the Lasley Scholarship program -- co-sponsored by the Symphony Orchestra League of Alexandria and the ASO -- that helps support and teach young musicians.

Haijoff said the competition really helped her develop into a professional musician.

"Just having to get ready for something like that, preparing a concerto, a major concert, makes you work hard, gives you a goal. And you know it's going to be taken seriously. Marc judged it a few years ago. The judges are people the students really respect, so it really stays with them."

Since then, the couple both taught at Shenandoah University, and now teach out of their home and perform all over the country and the world as Marcolivia violin duo. She said it's not difficult to both work and live together.

"Before we got married, we started doing duos in school, so we'd already been working together," she said. "I think we agree on quite a lot of things musically. We both try hard not to argue or bring other things into it, from our daily life. There's never been a piece that we disagree on. We like the same things. We are technically similar, we went to school together and learned from the same people, and teach the same way."

Haijoff said she loves to teach violin to people, whether they have a future as a professional musician or not.

"I just want them to always have music they can come back to later in life, whether they play in an orchestra, or just are able to go to orchestras and really love it. I've never been one of those teachers who say, 'You have to do it this way,'as long as they want to learn and show respect for the music, then I'm happy."
She said the beauty of teaching the violin is that amateurs and professionals are both always working on the basics -- it's not as simple as reading a note and then playing that note.

"It's like solving a puzzle -- there are always things to work out. I like to bring that out of them," she said. "The violin is really hard, it's much harder than anything they will do in school, or even anything they will do in life, but if I can help them to enjoy the puzzle solving, then they will know it's not something you're supposed to know how to do, and that's why they should love it."

"Lots of people come up to me and say, 'I played the violin once, I wish I hadn't given it up,' But no one ever says I wish I didn't play the violin."

The Marcolivia duo will bring that love of music and the violin to the stage on Nov. 14 with the ASO -- the only problem was deciding who would get to play what.

"I think I really wanted to play the Piazzolla, and I'm the more pushy one," she laughed. "This Piazzolla is unlike anything I've played before. I think the quirkiness really appealed to me; it's different, so it's always going to bring something new out. It's something like playing jazz -- there’s that freedom you get that you have on stage, there's a little bit of that."

Listen to Marcolivia at

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

ASO chosen for 2009-10 Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington

The Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington is proud to announce that Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO) has been selected to be featured in the 2009-10 Catalogue. A panel of 90 experts from area foundations, corporate giving programs, larger non-profit organizations, and the DC government evaluated nearly 240 applications; the ASO is one of 68 outstanding nonprofits to be featured this year.

About the ASO, from the Catalogue:

The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra combines a commitment to artistic excellence with a dedication to entertaining and educating a wide range of audience members -- from the seasoned subscribers to the 8-year-old attending a concert for the first time. Generous discounts for seniors, students, families, and youth organizations (Girl Scouts can earn a participation patch!); a free-ticket program for at-risk youth; select free concerts; a main location near four large retirement communities; and popular daytime events make ASO concerts accessible to committed music lovers and tentative music explorers alike. And the programming is fresh and innovative: recent seasons have included collaborations with visual artists, theater, choral, dance, and opera companies. In addition to its evening and matinee concert series, ASO offers an annual children's holiday concert; school-day concerts for Alexandria City's third- through sixth-graders that conclude a collaborative, year-long music and art curriculum; and a serious mentoring program for high school musicians.

ASO and you: beautiful music together.

About the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington:
Now in its seventh year, the Catalogue has become a trusted intermediary connecting smaller, community-based organizations with individual and foundation donors. According to Barbara Harman, President and Editor of the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington, "We know that nonprofits have had a very difficult year. For most, contributions are flat or down, and the decrease or loss of foundation and government funding has created significant budgetary challenges. Individual donors can make a real difference this year, keeping great organizations afloat during these tough times.” The Catalogue enables smaller non-profits to tell their stories to individuals who would otherwise never hear them, and to encourage those individuals to give. It also provides charities with a stamp of approval that tells donors they can invest with confidence because the Catalogue vets its family of nonprofits with great care.

20,000 individuals and hundreds of family foundations will receive copies of the catalogue this year, and the new catalogue website (, which launches on November 1, includes a gift registry and gift cards, and a section especially for kids.

Since its inception in 2003, the catalogue has helped raise over $9.5 million dollars for deserving, local, non-profit organizations. "Charities were selected for excellence, cost-effectiveness, and impact" Harman said. “These are certainly among the best community-based nonprofits in the Washington region.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

First concert of the season a great success

The positive response to our first concert of the 09-10 season has been overwhelming!

Thanks to amazing solo performances by pianist Carlos Rodriguez, (pictured, at left, with ASO Executive Director Adrien Finlay) violinist Leonid Sushansky, and the whole ASO orchestra, the Sept. 26 concert was a smashing success. (Despite a driving rain and one musician who couldn't make it because of a car accident on the way!)

The audience was brought to its feet at the end of Rodriguez's rousing performance of Gershwin's "Piano Concerto in F" and then, as an encore, he performed Debussy's lovely "Clair de Lune."

We have not stopped taking calls from raving audience members since.

Thank yous must be made to Music Director Kim Allen Kluge, all the musicians, SOLA volunteers, Tara Conte, and Key Club volunteers from T.C. Williams High School (pictured at left). And, thank you to Susan Cavanaugh for the great photos!

The next one is coming up on us soon! See you Nov. 14 with marcolivia!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leonid Sushansky: Born to make music

Leonid Sushansky was born to make music.

The violinist will be a solo guest performer on the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s opening night performance of Vivaldi’s “Summer” and “Autumn” from The Four Seasons on Sat., Sept. 26. He is the son of violinist Rimma Sushanskaya, who was already a successful solo violinist in the Soviet Union when Sushansky was born. She was one of the last students of the famous violinist David Oistrakh, a prize-winner, conservatory teacher and internationally acclaimed touring musician.

“My first memory of the violin is imaginary,” Sushansky said. “My mother played before I was born, and when she was pregnant with me, so I had music piped in from the very start. When I was a baby, I had music all around me. When I was a little kid, I used to pick up sticks and imagine I was playing.”

However, violin lessons didn’t come naturally to the mother-son pair right away, and eventually, at age 7, little Leonid started classes at a local school.
“They tried to start me at 6, but I didn’t have the attention span. I guess I wasn’t careful, or paying attention, and broke a couple of violins.”

Practicing never came easy for him, he said, but once he took the stage, his fate as a performing violinist was sealed.

“When I go on stage, it’s almost like being transformed into a different person,” he said. “In fact, when I was in the fourth grade -- 7 or 8 (years old) -- I was in a competition and one of my teachers was in the audience and didn’t recognize me.”
It was about that time that his mother began attempting to get permission to leave St. Petersburg and move to New York City. It was a long and difficult process.

“We were trying to leave Russia, and for a number of years we were refused. When people were denied the right to leave Russia, you were fired from your job, and the Soviet government said, ‘Survive how you can.’ My mother lost her job at the conservatory. All her concert tours were cancelled and all her music was taken off the radio. The only way we survived was private students would come in secret, and packages sent from relatives. In fact, when I won first competition, right before leaving Russia, the people were afraid to let me perform at the awards concert, for fear of repercussion.”

In 1977, the family members who were already in the United States, were able to win the family’s right to immigrate by campaigning politicians.

He was raised in New York City and attended the Julliard School of Music. He has never been back to Russia, although his mother, who splits her time now between New York and England, has returned on concert tours.

Leonid has lived in the D.C. area for a decade. He is in his third year as director of the National Chamber Ensemble. He said his mother sometimes comes to see him perform.

“I think she’s proud. Most of the time,” he said. “When she’s in town, I’m very appreciative to play for her. She’s a great artist. Her input is very valuable.”
Sushansky said he is looking forward to starting the season with the ASO and Vivaldi.
“I try the most to make whatever I’m performing at the moment my favorite work. Whatever you’re performing, you have to be fully invested in it. I’ve never had a concert where said, ‘I don’t really like this.’ So, yes, Vivaldi is my favorite. This week. And next week,” he said with a laugh. “This is very exciting to do Vivaldi, because I’m starting the season with Vivaldi with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, and ending the season with Vivaldi. In June, I’m performing the entire “Four Seasons” with the National Chamber Ensemble.”

“One of the things we do the most is talking to the audience during a performance. I try to make it interesting by telling stories, telling jokes – I try to make it a fun, interactive experience. Music is about sharing. When you share music, you’re also sharing yourself, it’s communicating.”

Sushansky said he likes to bridge the gap between the listener and the composer by giving out “the dirt” on the composers.

“Everybody has problems. It brings the composer to life. Most people, when they hear a composer’s name, think of some bust in a lobby, but I try to make the composer human. It helps to connect them to the music.”

But, Leonid said, Vivaldi is one of the few composers who almost doesn’t need any explanation – his music is so full of imagery and so accessible.

“ ‘The Four Seasons’ is probably the greatest or earliest examples of program music — music that tells a story. It’s amazing how accurately each piece portrays the poem without losing the musical quality,” Sushansky said. “In “Autumn,” in the first movement, the peasants are celebrating the harvest, and in the music it says they drink and they become drunk. I do not imagine a drunk person being able to play metronomically, so I make it a little free and unpredictable. Also, he brilliantly demonstrates when they fall asleep, the music demonstrates how they sleep and breathe. … In the first movement, they are dying from the heat, and then in the last movement, have a storm, and you hear the hail beating down the crop.”

Sushansky said while every concert has a great moment and memory for him, his most memorable moment onstage came when he was under the influence.

“It was last May, I had a performance two days after having surprise oral surgery. Doing a performance on Vicodin was interesting. For years I’ve always thought, ‘Hard work, hard work, practice hard,’ and Vicodin makes you think you can do anything. It went really well. I should have discovered Vicodin years ago. All these years, could have just taken a pill. And the concert was called ‘The Russians are Coming,’ so it was appropriate.”

Who: Alexandria Symphony Orchestra & Maestro Kim Allen Kluge
What: Vivaldi “Summer” and “Autumn” from The Four Seasons
Respighi Pines of Rome
Gershwin Piano Concerto in F
When: Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.
Where: Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall & Arts Center
NOVA Community College, Alexandria Campus
3001 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22311
Price: $20-$80. Call 703-548-0885 or visit for tickets

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Inspired by Nature" opens on Sept. 26

09-10 season begins at 8 p.m. Sept. 26

Featuring Carlos Rodriguez on piano and Leonid Sushansky on violin

Performing works by Vivaldi, Gershwin, and Respighi

The ASO heats up its 66th season, with pieces that evoke warm afternoon thunderstorms and colorful leaves softly floating to the ground. The season is Inspired by Nature, and during the scorching Sept. 26 concert, violinist Leonid Sushansky will perform Vivaldi's bright and playful “Summer” and “Autumn,” selections from The Four Seasons. These two well-known pieces were part of the ground-breaking work by the composer whose melodies bring to mind flowing creeks, singing birds and buzzing mosquitoes.

Check out this amazing sand painting, by Ferenc Cako
set to "Summer."

Guest Musicians

Leonid Sushansky is a virtuoso musician who is in his third season as the National Chamber Ensemble’s violinist and music director. The New York Times has called him “extraordinarily gifted,” and NPR’s Nina Totenberg has said, “He plays with so much heart, it makes you want to cry.”

ASO is happy to welcome back pianist Carlos Rodriguez. Rodriguez was one of the ASO’s most popular guests of the 07-08 season. Rodriguez is a member of the faculty at the Levine School of Music and guest artist and coach for the Domingo/Cafritz Young Artist Program with The Washington Opera.


Check out part of the Gershwin, as performed in the film "Rhapsody in Blue." Be forewarned, it's a little disconcerting that the concert is interrupted by an announcement of the composer's death.

For more information, to contact the guest musicians, or for photos or review tickets, call Marketing and Box Office Manager Merrie Leininger at 703-548-0885 or e-mail her at

Go here to see the "Fantasia 2000" version of our third piece of the night: Respighi's "Pines of Rome"

Who: Alexandria Symphony Orchestra & Maestro Kim Allen Kluge

What: Vivaldi “Summer” and “Autumn” from The Four Seasons

Respighi Pines of Rome

Gershwin Piano Concerto in F

When: Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.

Where: Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall & Arts Center

NOVA Community College, Alexandria Campus

3001 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22311

Price: $20-$80. Call 703-548-0885 or visit for tickets

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More ASO photos in local paper

The Alexandria Packett Gazette this week published photos from the July 11 City of Alexandria birthday celebration at Oronoco Park.

As you can see, if you weren't there this year, you're going to want to make sure you don't miss it in July 2010!

Below is Krekeler won the honor to conduct the symphony at the annual SOLA Ball that was held in March.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Music was in the air at community birthday celebration

Thanks to the thousands who came out to Oronoco Bay Park to listen to the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra during Saturday's fireworks celebrating the nation's and the city's birthdays.

The amount of people there alone was exciting, but the sense of community was amazing! The musicians and Maestro Kim Allen Kluge did a great job on the big-band era hits, the patriotic numbers and even the themes from the Harry Potter movies! We all loved it when the whole crowd clapped along during Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," and when people sang along with soloist Millicent Scarlett.

See some great photos of the crowd, the musicians and the fireworks by Alexandria News photographer Regan Kireilis, and a story by Carla Branch and Rebecca Newsham here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Children's Festival was a huge success!

The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s annual Children’s Arts Festival sold out on Sunday, June 7, with the more than 900 children and parents coming along for Adventures in Music.

For the hour before the concert began, the children were able to play with instruments ranging from hand bells to cellos in the instrument petting zoo, creating an amazing cacophony of sound in the lobby of the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Art Center. Outside, kids crowded the art tents -- creating their own guitars and drums out of balloons, rubber bands and cardboard boxes. Children and their parents also got help from the Del Ray Artisans, The Art League and the Torpedo Factory with drawings, paintings and screen

The concert was packed as Maestro Kim Allen Kluge, dressed as the Hobbit Frodo, told the crowd that “Little people can do big things,” and led the orchestra through selections from “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and Bugs Bunny’s “What’s Opera, Doc?” Student artwork created a splash of color projected in the darkened hall. Kluge also walked the children through a mini music class – singling out each type of instrument and describing a little about each so students would understand a bit more about what they were hearing.

For upcoming events, and information about the ’09-’10 season $5 youth matinee tickets, go to

Photos by Susan Kinghton Cavanaugh

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gather the kids -- it's time for the Children's Arts Festival

Kill the Wabbit!

What's Opera, Doc? - The most amazing videos are a click away

What: Annual Children’s Arts Festival: “Adventures in Music,”
Featuring selections from soundtracks to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Fellowship of the Ring and Bugs Bunny’s What’s Opera, Doc?(Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries & Tannhäuser Overture)

When: Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 2 p.m. – activities at 2 p.m., concert at 3 p.m.

Where: Schlesinger Concert Hall, NOVA Community College, Alexandria campus, 3001 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA

Price: $5 general admission

Info: Call 703-548-0885 or visit for tickets

This year's Children's Art Festival promises to be a great family day full of arts and crafts, exploration, and music. Art created by Alexandria school children will be displayed. Children will be able to play with orchestra instruments and make their own instruments to take home using paper towel rolls and rubber bands.

Kids -- no matter if they are piano prodigies or just wear a hole in "Kidz Bop" -- will benefit from the experience of listening to a live orchestra. They will hear music from Bugs Bunny, The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

The whole family can listen to powerful live music, dance, create and play all day for only $5 per person!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Help pass Obama's amazing arts budget

Last week, President Obama released his plans for funding the arts, and well, it's pretty fantastic news for those of us who love music and art.

As Americans for the Arts President & CEO Robert Lynch noted in a press statement, "The president's proposed funding of $161 million would take the NEA to its highest funding level in 15 years and will help continue the upward trend of budgetary growth that Congress established several years ago. In contrast to the previous administration, this year's budget includes funding for the Arts in Education program at the Department of Education at $38.16 million."

Of course, this isn't the end. Please send a message to your senator and representatives to urge them to support the president's budget. Let's keep art in our public schools!