The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra kicks off this year's Masterworks Series this weekend, featuring Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Lalo's Cello Concerto. The concert also has a special guest: Cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing, who recently won the Annual Sphinx Music Competition in Detroit.
The concert is Saturday, September 16 at 7:30 at CFCC's Wilson Center. Listen above and read our extended conversation below.
Gina: Stephen, tell me about the concert.
Steven: Saturday September, 16th. 7:30pm, Wilson Center. Wilmington Symphony Orchestra. Guest artist Ifetayo Ali-Landing playing the Lalo cello concerto and the featured orchestra work on the concert is Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition as orchestrated by Ravel.
Gina: I read that there are children who have made artworks for each of the pieces.
Steven: That's right. The students at the Wilmington Academy of Arts and Sciences have been listening to Pictures At An Exhibition for a couple of weeks now and they are responding artistically to what they hear.
Gina: How did that happen?
Steven: My wife, Sandy, teaches there and she and I are interested in what each other is doing and so she thought this would be a great way to get them introduced to the whole subject. They've also been looking at the paintings on which the orig0inal music was based
Gina: Is each student doing one piece of art?
Steven: Every student at the school is doing one. Those will be displayed in the lobby at the Wilson Center before the concert.
Gina: Do you know what medium they're using?
Steven: They're using collage, they're using paint on canvas, watercolor, whatever inspired them.
Gina: Ifetayo, what kind of music do you love? What kind of music do you love to listen to and what kind of music do you love to play?
Ifetayo: I mostly play classical music just because that's where I'm more comfortable. But I will play anything. I also like to play hip hop or R&B or pop. I mostly listen to hip hop and R&B and rap.
Gina: Do you see the infiltration the classical music into modern music?
Ifetayo: Yes, I've noticed it a lot more. I notice that now they're incorporating orchestras in a lot of their music or a flute player. In one of my favorite songs, “Mask Off”, they had a flute solo.
Gina: This is not your first time going out to speak with students?
Ifetayo: It is my first time going out by myself, not with my mother. I used to do this with my mother all the time because she's a violinist and a violin teacher.
Gina: And how have you prepared for that?
Ifetayo: I've been practicing cello a lot. I've been practicing the pieces I’m going to play for them. I've found that practicing speeches does not work for me So I just go along with the flow when I get in front of the children.
Gina: What kind of reaction do you get from young people who you speak with?
Ifetayo: When I was little doing these kind of outreach performances with my mom, I would get, oh she's so adorable, I want to be like her. But now I have more motivation to do what I want to do. The kids are more like, Hey, she's doing it, so can I. A lot of kids are appreciative.
Gina: Are you aware of the kind of inspiration you can provide for young people?
Ifetayo: Yes I definitely am.
Gina: Who inspired you as a young performer?
Ifetayo: Tahara Wittington was one of my inspirations. She was my old teacher.
Gina: What do you think has made you a great performer?
Ifetayo: I've always had a competitive spirit. The competitions helped me a lot because whenever I heard I was going to be doing another competition I would practice all day so I can get do my best. So a competitive spirit, for me, is what helps make me want to get better. Right now I'm really self-motivated and I want to get better.
Gina: Are there pieces that you are working on right now that you really want to get better at or goals that you have musically?
Ifetayo: One of my main musical goals right now is to playing Carnegie Hall. A piece that I'm working on right now is Leonard Bernstein's Three Meditations from Mass. I'm trying to perfect it.
Gina: Is it difficult?
Ifetayo: Yes it's difficult.
Gina: What's difficult about it?
Ifetayo: It's not your traditional classical music. It's very interesting. Trying to figure out a way to make it sound good and make people understand the story that I'm trying to tell them or portray to them. That's the difficult part. And trying to get it all in tune.
Gina: What are you playing for the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra?
Ifetayo: I am playing the Lalo Cello Concerto in D minor. I've been playing this piece for quite awhile but I always try to find ways to make it more interesting for myself, changing little things here and there. There are some parts of the piece that are very playful, in the second movement it's a very playful, fun type of piece. In the first and third movement it's kind of a little more serious. I did play this piece for the Sphinx competition.
Gina: What is the Sphinx competition? What does it mean to you? And why did you choose that piece to play for the competition?
Ifetayo: It was on the required repertoire list so it's the piece that all the cellists have to play. The Sphinx organization is an organization helps black and Latino classical musicians. Sphinx organization has been a part of my life for three years or so. I went to Sphinx's camp- Sphinx Performing Arts Camp and after that I studied with some teachers there who really helped me prepare for the Sphinx competition the following year. That was probably the most nervous I've ever been in my entire life. Luckily I did really well.
Gina: Steven, how did you get this gem?
Steven: We're a partner with the organization and we look at the recent winners and we try to see who might be a fit. In Ifetayo's case, the last guest we had was named Gareth Johnson. And since he was a guy this time we decided to bring in a gal.
Gina: Ifetayo, I understand you started playing the violin as soon as you could stand.
Ifetayo: Even when I was crawling I was holding a cardboard violin or something.
Gina: And your mother is a violinist.
Ifetayo: Yes. A violinist and a violin teacher.
Gina: And your little sister is also a violinist.
Ifetayo: Yes. And my older sister plays violin and viola and we all play piano.
Gina: And then you decided to play the cello.
Ifetayo: There's kind of a discrepancy with that. No one in my family truly knows how I decided to play the cello. I think I was forced to play cello, but all of them think I begged to play cello. I do remember the first time I saw a cello student at my mom's music school. And I do remember wanting to play cello. I just don't remember begging.
-laughter all around
Gina: What's your advice to any musically inclined young people?
Ifetayo: If you're just doing it for fun, don't be too hard on yourself. Just have fun because if you're too hard on yourself, it's no longer fun. If you're trying to do it as a career choice, don't stop. You might get tired. I mean, you can take a nap, but when you wake up go practice again. Just don't stop.