Classical 99.5 | Classical Radio Boston
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Randall Goosby's Boston Symphony Debut

Randall Goosby sits on a black couch against a caramel-colored wall. He wears a white, collared quarter zip with white pants. He has a black crewcut that's faded on the sides and chocolate-brown eyes. He hold his violin with both hands by the neck and looks off camera, mid-laugh.
Jeremy Mitchell
Courtesy of Decca Classics
Violinist Randall Goosby

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Encore broadcast on Monday, February 12

Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra welcome American violinist Randall Goosby, the youngest-ever winner of the Sphinx Concerto Competition, to Symphony Hall! Nelsons conducts Max Bruch’s spirited Violin Concerto No. 1 with Goosby as the soloist, as well as Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, the Reformation Symphony. The concert opens with the overture to the opera The Wreckers by celebrated early 20th century suffragette and composer Dame Ethel Smyth.

Andris Nelsons, conductor
Randall Goosby, violin

Dame Ethel SMYTH Overture to The Wreckers
Max BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1
Felix MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 5, Reformation

This concert is no longer available on demand.

To hear Randall Goosby describe his history with Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, what he learned while studying with Itzhak Perlman, and why he's passionate about music by Florence Price, use the player above, and read the transcript below.

To learn more about Ethel Smyth and Isabella Stewart Gardner, visit the Gardner Museum.


Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Randall Goosby, here with the Boston Symphony for the very first time. Randall, is it also your first time playing in Symphony Hall at all?

Randall Goosby It is. It's actually my first time stepping foot in Symphony Hall. So it was a really delightful shock [Goosby laughs] to step on stage and look out and just... Yeah, I felt like I was in a movie.

Brian McCreath Wonderful. The First Violin Concerto by Bruch is the piece you're playing with the BSO for your debut here with the orchestra. Tell me about your own history with this piece. It's one that a lot of violinists play, but everybody's got their own little particular way that they came to this piece. And what can you tell me about the way you entered into playing the Bruch Violin Concerto?

Randall Goosby That's a great question. It's one of my favorite pieces in the violin repertoire, and one that I've had kind of in my fingers and in my repertoire for probably the longest of all the concertos that I've played. My way into the piece started with the very first note, that open G that begins the concerto. There's a funny story. I used to study with a great violinist named Philippe Quint, and this was the first concerto that I worked on with him. I want to say we spent at least an hour of a lesson on that first open G, trying to figure out all the different possibilities. At that point, I was still really kind of early on in my artistic development, so he was really just trying to open my eyes to all of the different possibilities and also try to get me to be a little pickier with myself and get a little bit more intentional with the way that I was approaching not only the first open G, but every note that is played in the concerto. I like to say about the Bruch, it's one of those pieces where there's a little something in it for everyone. It's got the virtuosity, it's got the intimacy, it's got the romance, the drama. So yeah, hopefully we'll bring all of that to you on Saturday.

Brian McCreath No doubt. And you're speaking of this opening note, and I have to say, just watching you in rehearsal right now, you went through the piece with the orchestra once, then you went back and you started again. And that first note was so beautiful when you started. I mean, it was beautiful the first time, but it just have emerged out of nowhere and had this richness to it. And that note must help you calibrate to any concert hall. And then you're here doing it at Symphony Hall. Describe that moment for me.

Randall Goosby Yeah, what you said about it sort of emerging out of the orchestra, it really does. And the winds have such a beautiful, unified, meshed sort of group sound. So it really provides an awesome kind of framework for me to come out of. And yeah, you would think that an open string would be the easiest note to start a concerto with and kind of get warm, as you said, acclimate yourself to the hall. But as with any other note, it takes the same level of care and sort of craftsmanship. So it's a great opportunity for me to kind of get in there and really feel what the violin feels like that day, that time, running it through. So yeah, we'll see what it sounds like on Saturday [Goosby laughs].

Brian McCreath Well, now, I don't know if you're aware, but the last time the Bruch Violin Concerto, this Bruch Violin Concerto was played with the BSO was in the summer of 2022. And the soloist was Itzhak Perlman, a person with whom you are very familiar. And it was a beautiful performance, as you would expect. But tell me about your relationship with him and how that's shaped the musician you are today.

Randall Goosby For those who might not know him, he's one of the most down to earth human beings you'll ever meet. He's always got a joke or something like that to begin the lesson. As soon as you meet him, whether you're a violinist or a musician or not, the wall between icon and normal person just drops. I mean, he really is just such a generous and kind soul. And as far as studying with him for almost a decade, it never really got old or stale. I still remember some of my very first lessons that I had with him when I was probably 14, 15 years old, and a lot of the stuff that we would work on in lessons ended up kind of being a seven, eight year long expansion on some of those first lessons.

In one of the very first lessons I can remember, I was asking him a lot of questions. I think I was playing a Wieniawski concerto, something really hard, virtuosic, all over the fingerboard. And I was asking him a lot of questions about technique: "How do you do this shift? How do you practice these double stops or get the spiccato to speak?" And his response was, "Actually, let me ask you a question. How does this music make you feel?" And I didn't really have an answer for him because I was so focused on all this technical stuff. And that was his point. He was like, look, it's not that I don't care. It's not that I don't want to listen to it, but the meaning behind the music should come first. Whatever that music says to you, whatever story you're trying to tell through that music is the priority. That is the reason for all of this technical stuff. So it can't be the other way around. You can't figure out the technique first and then try to add in the musicality to it, right? You have to know exactly what you want from the music first and let that inform the technique.

So that's been a philosophy that I've carried with me today, and one that I use when I do have the opportunity to teach as well. I found that a lot of young students that I come across and have the chance to meet have the same questions that I did when I was 14 or 15 about technique and all of this, all the things that make violin really, really hard. And my response to them is the same as Mr. Perlman's: let's not worry about that today. Let's figure out what you're trying to say with the music and go from there.

Brian McCreath One of the composers that you have been really active in promoting is Florence Price, including on your most recent recording, which is a recording of the concerto you're playing here, along with music by Florence Price. And so I'm interested in your discovery of her music. So many of us have discovered it in recent years. But tell me why it has felt so important to you to record it, first of all, on your album "Roots," and then now with these concertos, with the Bruch that you've recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Randall Goosby It's been really encouraging to see the huge rise in appreciation and the sense of urgency in classical music around highlighting and bringing to light voices that we haven't heard for a long time, and Florence Price is one of those examples of music that's not new, but it's new to us as a community and as an art form. And I think the importance of any underrepresented composer or a composer who hasn't necessarily gotten the shine that they deserved in their lifetime is... I think it revolves around the idea of empathy, to me.

Music is how we express ourselves as human beings. There's a reason they call it the universal language. Through music, we can get a sense of what that musician or composer or artist is feeling and going through in that moment. And I think one of the things that's divided so many people from different walks of life, whether it's here in the U.S. or abroad, is a lack of understanding of each other's experience. And I think really giving music that you haven't heard a chance gives you a window into someone else's life, into their background, into their experience. And Florence Price, her life, her experience is one that's reflective of a lot of people here in the U.S., especially. And it's something that the more we understand, the better. And so Florence Price's music for me is really, really unique, especially in the scope of classical music, because she's, I say she was able to, but she kind of had to blend influences that we don't hear very often in classical music. She grew up around hymns and church and spirituals and folk songs that were passed down by word of mouth from her grandmother. And on the other side of the coin, she was trained at New England Conservatory, very Eurocentric sort of traditions and techniques as far as compositional techniques go. And so when you blend those two things together, you get something that you've never heard before.

In classical music, we hear so many of the same composers and really the same pieces by those composers over and over and over again, season after season. And so coming across something that's really new, original, organic and quintessentially American, actually, is really exciting. So that's one of the main reasons why I think it's so important for her voice in particular, to be shared more and more.

Brian McCreath Randall Goosby, it's great to have you here. Wonderful to hear you on stage with the Boston Symphony, and I appreciate your time today.

Randall Goosby Thank you so much, Brian. It's been a pleasure.