NY Phil Biennial

This week’s postcard is from Eric Jacobsen, conductor and co-artistic director (with his brother Colin) of The Knights, with whom the SF Girls Chorus will present a whole evening of premieres at the NY Phil Biennial next Thursday, June 9, 2016.


Hello new friends in the San Francisco Girls Chorus community,

As The Knights and the SF Girls Chorus begin our week of rehearsing and performing together here in NYC, I wanted to greet you all and reflect on my San Francisco rehearsals in May with Valérie and the Chorus.

The Knights Conductor Eric Jacobsen with Valérie Sainte-Agathe, Lisa Bielawa, and the SFGC premier ensemble, on May 16, 2016.

My first impressions… Well, first of all, I must say that it was astounding how Good it sounded. That’s just a truth and it’s almost not worth talking about it because—WOW, it’s so good. And I thought about the idea of attempting personal uncharted territory. So, a world premiere that’s never been done—how do we accomplish that, how do we build on something that we don’t even know the first thing about because someone just created it? No one’s done it before! It’s the feeling of accomplishment in a true way, not the accomplishment of cleaning a kitchen or cooking a great meal, but the accomplishment of a trek, of climbing a mountain—artistically.

That sticks with you—I feel like the times I look back on projects that made me say ‘Oh I wanna do that kind of thing Again,’ which is impossible – you can’t recreate any moment—but you can certainly see what made you excited, and therefore you try to do similar things in your future, really hard challenges that lead to really satisfying results. It’s as simple as taking a piece of repertoire that everyone knows and you just worked on it and got it to a really special place. Or it could be that you’re working so hard because it’s a world premiere—something no one’s heard before. Or it’s just that a piece is technically challenging and being able to rise to the occasion is just so beautiful.

I would say that there’s nothing greater than having a life than incorporates music into your bloodstream. I feel very lucky that I get to make music as my profession because I can spend time doing work which really does feel like playing and having fun. When I was in pre-college at Juilliard, or School for Strings when I was in high school, I got to play chamber music and in orchestra, and so it was very nostalgic to get to be with the SFGC and work on some very hard pieces because I remember the times when I was that age and REALLY pushing the boundaries. I remember thinking, “OMG I don’t know if I can do this, if we can do this” but then we actually attempted and surmounted it to whatever degree possible—it burns a hole through your brain in a way, such a sense of accomplishment!

And from those people that I made music with in high school, there are a few that I still make music with on a professional level, some of whom I get together and read chamber music with just for the joy of playing music even though they have different professions, some people who don’t play music at all but they are in my community because I see them when I go to different cities where they live. I feel like those bonds that you form at that time in your life, especially when you’re all dedicated to an artistic endeavor, are totally priceless. That’s why I think I had such an emotional take-away from working with the girls.

Choristers, to you all—in some ways this is the time to have multiple interests because at some point you might have to make a decision about what you have to really devote so much time to that other things fall to the side. In some ways our lives lead us in different directions and we end up knowing we have to make decisions—and of course one of the biggest human challenges is making a decision!

Making Decisions: Eric Jacobsen plays his final NYC performance as cellist of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider tonight, making way for a fast-growing conducting career.

So for those of you who are pulled in different directions—you have to follow what you want to do—I went down the rabbit hole of really wanting to be an excellent cellist and I spent so much time devoting myself to that thing. I’m not the person in the world who’s spent the most time, and I’m not the best. However, I feel that when you spend so much time that you become good at something, once again—it’s that accomplishment.

Do I regret not being able to sit down at the piano and play, or play guitar, or do I regret not continuing to play tennis after the age of 17? Yes—these are all things that went to the side—that was my path, I decided on the cello and that led me to music-making as a conductor. One should follow what they want to do and, yes, make some decisions along the way. Decide what you CAN be best at, and decide if that’s the thing that you want to be best at, or good at. Attempting to achieve that is very satisfying.

And a special note to you parents—this coming week is a huge accomplishment for you, too. You see your kids grow up, and in the process you deal with so much stuff when you are a parent. To get to the point where your daughter is able to fly on a plane, stay in New York with a group of friends and perform at one of the most important music centers in the world—you gotta get chills! Thank yourself, thank your parents, thank their parents for somehow giving you the tools to raise someone who is contributing to society at such a young age.

And to those of you making the trip here tomorrow, I’m so excited to welcome you here in NYC! Until very soon,

Eric Jacobsen