“Glowing” – The New York Times on Salomé

A Classical Guitarist Making Herself Heard
Published: May 15, 2011

The classical guitar is mostly a solitary instrument, partly because the greatest works written for it are in the solo repertory.  So even though its concerto repertory has grown prodigiously since the late 1930s and is plentifully available on recordings, opportunities to hear guitarists play concertos in concert remain comparatively rare.

The technical problem should no longer be so daunting now that guitarists routinely use subtle amplification, as Sharon Isbin did in her performance with the Salomé Chamber Orchestra on Saturday evening at the Metropolitan Museum.  Ms. Isbin uses a system that lets her be heard but preserves the poetry and warmth of the guitar’s timbre: her sound was rounded and buttery throughout the instrument’s range.

The evening was very much hers. Though the orchestra, which performs standing and without a conductor, gave a glowing account of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro (Op. 47), it mostly collaborated with Ms. Isbin on concertos and a chamber piece.

The program opened with Vivaldi’s Concerto in D (RV 93), originally for the lute. Ms. Isbin took a relaxed, easygoing approach, even in the bright outer movements. But if her focus was on precision and directness, she sacrificed nothing in energy. As in her Virgin and Warner recordings of the work, she was generous with ornamentation in the repeated sections. In the Adagio especially, she expanded freely on Vivaldi’s slow-moving, introspective melody and adorned phrase endings with cross-string trills, which, unlike the easier and more common single variety, have the clarity and definition of a keyboard trill.

Ms. Isbin took a similarly mellow approach to Rodrigo’s “Fantasía Para un Gentilhombre,” a 1954 meditation on dances by the 17th-century Spanish composer Gaspar Sanz. Usually this fantasia is played as a straightforward dialogue between guitar and orchestra, each presenting Rodrigo’s elaborations on the Sanz pieces with equal zest. Ms. Isbin, instead, created the illusion of historical distance, as if the guitar line represented Sanz’s voice, with the orchestra providing Rodrigo’s commentary. (That said, she was at her most arresting in the very un-Sanzian harplike cadenza in the finale.)

Between the Vivaldi and Rodrigo works, Ms. Isbin and a quartet from the orchestra (a quintet if you count the castanet and tambourine player, who joined in for the Fandango finale) gave a brisk account of Boccherini’s Quintet No. 4 (G. 448). Ms. Isbin also played two solo works: a lovely account of Tárrega’s “Capricho Arabe” in which her rhythmically free reading of the introductory filigree suggested the sound of an oud, and Andrew York’s pleasant “Andecy.”

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Salomé Gala Coverage by Photographer Billy Ferrell

Check out celebrity photographer Billy Ferrell’s photo coverage of Salomé’s December Gala Concert, hosted by model Lauren Bush and featuring soloist David Aaron Carpenter. All proceeds from that evening benefited the Somaly Mam Foundation.

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“All in the Family Band” – Wall Street Journal

SEPTEMBER 30, 2010

All in the Family Band
Musical Siblings Search for the Right Carnegie Hall Company


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.

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