MAESTRO OF MAESTROS
This past Sunday Kimberly and I attended a charming performance of Donizetti’s DON PASQUALE in Corbett Auditorium. It was the final showcase of the OPERA BOOT CAMP, brainchild of soprano and CCM Voice Faculty member, Amy Johnson and maestro Mark Gibson, Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music.
The singers, around two dozen young hopefuls with voices full of promise of things yet to come, still in the gestation period as singing actors, courageously took on a full length opera, sang it in Italian, by memory, performed with commitment and musicality in the ever elusive Bel Canto style, approaching their stage work in a no-nonsense manner with a minimum of props, no set to speak of, basic lighting and very clear direction from veteran baritone Vernon Hartman who acquitted himself with flying colors (complete with terrific low F’s) in the central basso buffo role of the prickly old bachelor in love with a cute young thing a fraction his age.
Oh and they had under four weeks from a to z to get this show on its feet, along with a double bill of Milhaud and Offenbach, in French, s’il vous plaît, and a program of scenes thrown in for good measure to give all the kids in the program a shot at performing.
But then there was the orchestra and the maestros in the making to lead it. And here’s where our friend Mark Gibson comes into the picture. In fact, he’s been in the orchestral picture for four decades: a maestro to maestros for many years.
Among Gibson’s former pupils, now successful conductors themselves, there’s Xian Zhang (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra… Nederlandse Orkest- en Ensemble-Academie… Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano…BBC National Orchestra of Wales…), Olivier Ochanine (Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Sun Symphony Orchestra of Hanoi, Vietnam and former Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra), and Annunziata Tomaro (New Mexico Philharmonic).
I have been attending concerts of the CCM Philharmonia and CCM Opera and reviewing Mark Gibson’s work in any number of works, ranging from opera in concert (Verdi’s Paris Don Carlos…Strauss’ Salome…) to staged opera to Mahler symphonies, for eight years…In all idioms and styles and periods, Gibson is a conductor to be reckoned with: meticulous, impassioned, insightful, revelatory. But it is Mark Gibson, mentor of future orchestral players and conductors that we want to salute here.
The orchestra for Don Pasquale was led by half a dozen young men and women, each taking three numbers or so each in a musical relay course. All excellent, pliant and alert to the singers on stage, Gibson’s wards outdid themselves. The players themselves were faultless, obviously rehearsed within an inch of their lives.
Before the concert I reminded Maestro Gibson of a promise made to me by him quite a while back. It was his Oxford University Press book, The Beat Stops Here – Lessons on and off the Podium for Today’s Conductor. He went to his office, came back upstairs, and dedicated it to me. The book now sits in a place of honor on a bookstand on my desk, and I can’t wait to dive into it.
Hats off to Maestro of Maestros Mark Gibson, who has dedicated the best part of his life to grooming his young pupils for a career in music.
Rafael de Acha