Classical Q&A with conductor Len Ingrao
- Written by Nicole Laidler
Originally from Welland, Ontario, Len Ingrao came to London in 1980 to study music at Western University, eventually studying conducting under Charles Zachary Bornstein.
Apart from time spent continuing his studies in Vienna he says he has been here ever since!
Today, Ingrao leads both the London Youth Symphony and the London Community Orchestra and is part of Western’s Piano Technology Program.
How did you develop your interest in conducting?
I began primarily as a pianist, though my interests very early on were more on orchestral and chamber music than on piano music. I also played organ while in separate school and eventually became director of the local church choir. I also played clarinet during high school and created a small clarinet ensemble that I led.
So the interest was already there, but as high school was coming to an end and it was time to choose one path, I chose the piano and that's when I came to Western. Nevertheless, when I played the piano I also wanted to hear an orchestra rather than the piano and tried to make the instrument sound like one. When my BA came to an end, I finally decided to stop kidding myself and began studying conducting.
You serve as the conductor of both the London Community Orchestra and the London Youth Symphony. What do you enjoy about working with the young musicians at LYS and the highly-trained amateurs at LCO?
For me, whether working with young musicians, highly-trained amateurs or professionals it's all the same: making music and striving to create what I hear in my head. And we should recognize that there are a lot of very talented players of all ages and of all levels of experience in this city!
Certainly there are more challenges with the young because you are training as well, but this is an exciting part of working with a youth symphony in itself. I am a conductor who likes to rehearse, and a rehearsal - taking something that is "raw" and working towards something "refined" - is a creative process. In that sense, working with a youth symphony, where one is training as well as working towards a musical goal, is even more satisfying when the goal is reached.
But with both orchestras the goal is the same: my aim is always to help the players reach their highest potential, individually and as an ensemble, and to strive towards making what I hear around me match what I hear internally, what I believe the composition is saying.
December’s LCO concert features three young soloists – violinists Alexia Hlynialuk and Victoria Looby, and cellist Anna Grigg. Can you tell me a bit about each one?
Alexia Hlynialuk is a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at London Central Secondary School. She began her study of the violin at the age of four and currently studies with Melvin Martin of Orchestra London and Western's Don Wright Faculty of Music. A graduate of L.B. Pearson School for the Arts, Alexia has a keen interest in all areas of the arts and knew she wanted to play the violin at the age of three.
Victoria Looby is 17 years old, began violin lessons at the age of ten and studies with Irene Tandberg. She completed her Grade 9 RCM violin exam in June of this year and is also the recipient of many scholarships and awards, including the 2011 Senior Violin Sonata Trophy awarded by the London Kiwanis Music Festival. Victoria has been a member of Forest City School for Talent Education for many years, participating in quartets, ensembles, and orchestra. She was also a member of the London Youth Symphony during the 2011-12 season.
Anna Grigg started studying music at the age of six and has studied cello under the direction of Julia Macgregor for the past 11 years. She is also involved in the Forest City School for Talent Education where she has performed in numerous chamber groups, cello ensemble and orchestras. In 2012, she won the London Kiwanis Music Festival Senior Cello Trophy and is currently in her second year as principal cellist of the London Youth Symphony. A student at Medway High School, she performs vocally with the Medway Madrigal Singers, Senior Choir, Women’s Choir and plays the trumpet in the Senior Concert Band and Senior Jazz Band.
I am assuming that young musicians don't get a lot of opportunities to perform as soloists with a full symphony orchestra. What do you think the experience means to them - and to the members of the orchestra?
Yes, but more opportunities are opening up. Besides the LCO December concert which is open to young musicians from London and surrounding area, the soloists for the LYS concerts are always from its membership. Community orchestras in Kitchener-Waterloo now have concerts featuring young soloists as well and are open to players from a larger geographic area, so players from London have this as an opportunity as well.
It is certainly a valuable experience, whether they go on to pursue a musical career or not. If they do pursue such a career, then the more they can perform as soloists with an orchestra before they "get out into the world" the better. Certainly, players have ample opportunities to play the same pieces in master classes, class recitals, music festivals, with a piano accompaniment, but an orchestra is an entirely different beast, a completely different acoustical environment with a different way of acting and reacting.
Playing with an orchestra behind you requires more give and take, more cooperation, more concentrated listening to what is happening around you, and the pressure is greater. This can only be experienced in front of an orchestra, so every opportunity to perform with one is that much more a valuable and necessary experience.
From the perspective of the players in the orchestra, there is great satisfaction in working with these players while they are still at the early stages of their training. Again, we should recognize that there are a high number of extremely talented and advanced young players in this city, and the orchestra takes great pride in being able to showcase that talent and to help it grow. It is a joy, a responsibility, and a privilege.
If someone is interested in joining the London Community Orchestra, how much musical experience do they need, and how do they go about securing a chair?
If someone is interested, they should contact the orchestra through our website (www.lco-on.ca). If there is a seat available, instead of an audition the orchestra will invite the player to come in and play with us during our rehearsals, and over the course of a few weeks they (and we) will know whether it's a good fit for us and them.
If You Go
What: London Community Orchestra, Young Soloists
When: Sunday, December 16 @ 3pm
Where: Dundas St. Centre United Church (Dundas & Maitland)
Nicole Laidler is the editor of The Beat Magazine and a local freelance writer and business communicator. In her younger years she played oboe with both the London Youth Symphony and London Community Orchestra. Visit her a www.spilledink.ca
[Photos: Len Ingrao, Alexia Hlynialuk and Anna Grigg]