Classical Music

A Day In The Life Of An Artist: Perry So

The internationally-acclaimed conductor describes a day at the 2017 Round Top Music Festival.

What do artists do in their free time? What inspires them in their everyday life? How do they start their day, tackle their creative processes, balance work-life, and then unwind – all within 24 hours?

In this new series, "A Day in the Life of an Artist," we'll invite one artist to answer those questions by pulling back the curtain on one day in his or her life.

For our first installment, conductor Perry So describes a day at the 2017 Round Top Music Festival. Now in its 47th season, the Round Top Music Festival is considered by some as the "Tanglewood" of the Lone Star State. A summer conservatory for young professional musicians, distinguished faculty artists and guest conductors, the festival is also famous for its 210-acre campus in the Texas Hill Country, set amidst country roads, forests, gardens, Victorian homes and architecture.

Here is how conductor Perry So spent June 8, 2017:



As usual, I’ve woken up a little late to have breakfast on campus, so I am sitting in a cozy corner of Expressions, a lovely coffee shop in the tiny town of Round Top (just a 4 minute drive from campus) that very generously gives every member of the festival one free coffee every day. I’m catching up on emails, prepping for other concerts, reading a little bit of news, but in the back of my mind I’m going over yesterday’s rehearsal and the things we have to tackle in today’s afternoon session.



It’s turned out to be a beautiful Texas afternoon – very sunny, but not humid. I’m walking the 100 yards or so between the Log House, where a number of the faculty stay, and the spectacular concert hall. I’ve been coming here for six years, and every time I walk into the hall after a year away I am stunned anew by the care and perseverance it took to create this very special place. Many of the students are already warming up on stage (30 minutes ahead of the beginning of rehearsal!)

Today we’re starting rehearsal with Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, with our Artistic Director, James Dick on the piano, and two of our faculty, violinist Stefan Milenkovich and cellist Emilio Colón. This concerto doesn’t appear on programs very frequently – I’ve only done it once before, about eight years ago. Over the last three days the soloists, staff and I have been discussing how to set up the stage so that everyone has enough space to play comfortably, but are still close enough to hear each other well.



Most of the students and faculty are in the basement of Menke House, where the menu for dinner today is corn chowder and sandwiches. The faculty are seated around a long table in the back room where we are discussing our day. There’s an open seat next to Stefan, and we settle into a discussion about the rehearsal today and what we would like to accomplish tomorrow. I ask Stefan if the orchestra seems too aggressive to him – I like my Beethoven quite edgy but wanted to know whether it would be too much for the soloists, and whether the acoustics in the hall could tolerate it. Stefan suggests that as long as we can maintain consistency and control, it would work – an observation that speaks to the challenge of putting together in a week an orchestra of young musicians, who are meeting each other for the first time!

On my right is Felix Olschofka, a violin professor who is spending his first summer here. Felix has been an invaluable source of knowledge and support in rehearsals of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, which is on the second half of our program. The symphony requires a fair amount of effort to put together, even for an orchestra that plays together regularly. Felix suggests that we’re making fine progress, and I agree. The sound of the orchestra is gradually becoming richer and more eloquent, although we both feel that the level of confidence can still increase.



Many of us are at a Mexican restaurant and bar in Round Top, one of the few places open this late. I am with some of the staff, including our wonderful music librarian, Irene Quirmbach (who is joining us in the Rachmaninoff on viola!), and Colin Jenkins, who has been the head intern here for a number of summers. Irene is a font of knowledge about the festival, having been a student here herself, and it’s always a joy to talk to her. We reminisce about the last few summers, and a few students who were also here last summer are at the same table – there are new auditions every year so you never know who will be back and who won’t. This evening reminds me of why I love coming to Round Top – I love the energy of the young musicians, and the thoughtfulness and dedication of the faculty, all of us here to learn and to pass on what we’ve learned.

Perry So conducts the Opening Orchestral Concert at the 2017 Round Top Music Festival on Saturday, June 10, 7:30pm, featuring Beethoven's "Triple" Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano (with violinist Stefan Milenkovich, cellist Emilio Colón and pianist James Dick) and Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.



Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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