All in the Family Band
Musical Siblings Search for the Right Carnegie Hall Company
By YULIYA CHERNOVA
The dozen or so musicians who showed up to audition in the Victorian-style living room of a townhouse on Central Park West a few weeks ago were top-notch artists, but a few admitted to being nervous. They were aiming to join a young classical music ensemble called Salomé Chamber Orchestra, which, just a year after launching, is preparing to play Carnegie Hall next month.
On this afternoon on the Upper West Side, it was not a conductor picking the musicians; this orchestra, named after the biblical character responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist, has no one person at its helm. Instead, the three founders, 20-something siblings David, Lauren and Sean Carpenter, sat in the judges’ seats.
Salomé was formed in the summer of 2009, when a group of friends—many former classmates at Juilliard and Princeton University—got together in Lauren’s West 64th Street apartment to brainstorm potential names, repertoire and logistics for a new string ensemble. Lauren, 25, and Sean, 29, both accomplished violinists, were the leaders, and 24-year-old David, a viola soloist, took a supporting role.
The Carpenters practice in the rented townhouse where they live with their mother, Grace. On this day, though, the siblings were there to reorganize the group with the aim of putting together a new version of the ensemble.
“You were just freaking fantastic!” Lauren said to one musician after an audition. Grace, who manned the door, suggested they be more formal about the process. “Hell, no,” responded Lauren, whose full-time job is in marketing at Google, Inc., “I don’t want to scare them.”
The idea behind Salomé is to attract a younger audience with a vibrant orchestra. It is also for the musicians to run the ensemble in a democratic way—that is, keeping it in the hands of the “oligarchy,” as David sarcastically refers to his siblings.
“We want to perform for people our age, and we recognize it’s a form of entertainment,” Lauren said. “It’s not just creating a concert, but creating an event.”
Soon after forming, the Carpenters performed in venues like Milk Studios in the Meatpacking District and Brooklyn’s Bargemusic. At one concert, they met Sarah M. Lowe, the granddaughter of Werner Josten, the German-American composer whose works have been performed rarely since he died in 1963. Ms. Lowe and her uncle, Peter W. Josten, are sponsoring the forthcoming Carnegie concert, where Salomé will play some of Josten’s work, along with the music of Samuel Barber and Antonin Dvořák.
During a break in the auditions, David picked up a Stradivarius violin and began to play. “You’re in the wrong key,” snapped Sean. Apparently, winning the 2006 Walter E. Naumburg Viola Competition doesn’t spare one the grousing of an older brother.
“I don’t really play the violin, but I make an exception for a Strad,” David said. He was only half-kidding. Sean collects and sells musical instruments for his company, Sean A. Carpenter Fine Violins LLC, so Salomé members get to play on some of the world’s finest instruments.
Accordingly, they’re in search of some the world’s finest musicians. Because the Carpenters have decided to re-create the original ensemble at the highest level, some of their friends won’t make the cut. “We feel bad,” David said, “it’s ruthless.” They swept aside suggestions for granting tenure to members and for holding blind auditions, where the performer sits behind a curtain, anonymous to the judges. “We’re not just listening to the sound,” Lauren said. “We care about the physicality, the performance.”
During audition breaks, Lauren reviewed the questionnaires filled out by applicants. “No one wants to volunteer with administrative tasks. That’s funny,” she said without a smile. The new group is boot-strapping as they go along, and planning to incorporate as a nonprofit in the next few months to secure grants and gifts.
After more than three hours of auditions, it was discussion time. Every now and again, Grace would peek in. “Whenever you guys want to eat something…”
Though the siblings all served as concertmasters of the orchestra at Princeton and graduated with the same politics degree— and even looked like triplets while growing up in Great Neck, Long Island—they are not of the same mind on everything.
“He was great. He is in!” said Sean of one of the performers.
“I completely disagree with you,” David shot back.
“We’re all pretty opinionated,” said Lauren. “But we’ll convince each other.”
New York, they agreed, has a remarkable pool of talent. And Sean, who has worked as an analyst at Fortress Investment Group, noted that the slow economy has led great musicians to consider less established groups like Salomé.
Lauren, Sean and David—as well as Crista Kende on viola, Mihai Marica on cello, Julia MinJeong Kang on cello, and Gabriela Martinez on piano—are set to play the Weill Recital Hall on Oct. 26.