By Michael Kurth
This season, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra family welcomes seven new musicians — four violinists, two brass players, and an Associate Conductor. (And yes, even though they rarely make any noise in concerts, conductors are indeed musicians!)
It turns out this talented batch of virtuosos have quite a bit in common with one another and with their new colleagues, as I discovered during a series of socially-distant, COVID-free email exchanges.
First off, they are all either native Southerners, or from the New York area: our new Principal Horn, Jaclyn Rainey, hails from Louisville, Kentucky. (Many of you will remember Jaclyn as our former Third Horn player, who recently spent a few seasons as Assistant Principal Horn in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We’re thrilled that she chose to return to Atlanta.)
Violinist Robert Anemone spent his childhood in Williamsburg, Virginia. Violinist Rachel Ostler hails from Miami. ASO Associate Conductor and Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra Music Director Jerry Hou, though born in Taiwan, grew up in Jonesboro, Arkansas. And violinist Dae Hee Ahn was born in the south, technically — the southern part of South Korea, that is. In case that doesn’t neatly fit her in the “Native Southerner” category, she certainly fits into the other column — her family settled in New Jersey when she was seven. Trumpeter Anthony Limoncelli is from Long Island — specifically New Hyde Park. Violinist Kevin Chen was born in Ithaca and moved to Princeton at age seven.
Many of them spent the most recent step on their journey to Atlanta in the South as well — Anthony Limoncelli in Sarasota, Robert Anemone in Raleigh, Jerry Hou in Houston, Kevin Chen in Miami.
The music schools they attended also (perhaps more predictably) share some geography. The New York area features prominently on many of their resumes: Eastman, in Rochester (Jaclyn Rainey and Jerry Hou), Juilliard (Anthony Limoncelli, Kevin Chen and Dae Hee Ahn), Yale (Rachel Ostler and Dae Hee Ahn), Columbia (Kevin Chen), and Manhattan School of Music (Anthony Limoncelli).
Several studied at schools in the South: Rice University (Anthony Limoncelli and Jerry Hou), and Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles, which might not be in The South, but it’s in Southern California, so I thought I’d make the stretch (Rachel Ostler).
And, since the classical music world is a close-knit one, it turns out many of them attended music school with some current ASO players: Jaclyn Rainey and Robert Anemone with Zach Boeding, Jaclyn again with Stuart Stephenson and Andrew Brady, Rachel Ostler and Dae Hee Ahn with Sissi Zhang, Rachel again with Brittany Conrad, and Dae Hee again with Madeline Sharp and Sam Nemec.
Also, most of them have made some of their fondest musical memories at summer music festivals. Many of our ASO musicians, including Robert Spano and Donald Runnicles, spend part of their summers traveling to festivals. There they serve as ambassadors of the stellar reputation of the ASO and benefit from collaboration with musicians from other great orchestras. The new batch of players boast a superlative record of renowned festivals: Grand Teton, Verbier, Taos, Yellow Barn.
When asked which composers they most eagerly looked forward to playing once we’re back on stage, many of the new players expressed a fondness for the big Romantic-era works that most ASO players adore and perform so well: Mahler, Richard Strauss, Sibelius (Rachel Ostler calls his symphonies “life-affirming”). Kevin Chen says it was hearing the Berlin Philharmonic play Mahler that made him decide to become an orchestral musician.
However, the next topic reveals where their generally, arguably, journalistic-license-y, darn-near-identically similar paths diverge: food. I asked them what type of cuisine they hope Atlanta has to offer, and the diversity of responses made my stomach growl hungrily, eager for that longed-for return to normalcy when we can all safely socialize at our favorite restaurants again.
Jaclyn, who returns to Atlanta, already knows where she’ll apres-concert: Kimball House, Taqueria el Vecino and Antico. Anthony loves Southern food, but being a native Long Islander, he is “pretty picky about pizza” and looks forward to putting Atlanta pizzerias to the test. Maybe Jaclyn will take him to Antico.
Dae Hee hopes to find a Spanish restaurant to impress her with a great paella. Rachel will be happy to find a good Colombian bakery, so I’m sure she’ll be spending some lunch breaks along Buford Highway. Robert will settle for a good coffee shop; I’ll bet it won’t take long to get him interested in the restaurant scene as well.
But Jerry will probably enjoy the hunt more than any of the others, if only for the sheer variety of his comestible quarry: he likes pretty much anything spicy, including Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, and barbecue, and fried chicken… gosh, do you think he’ll find any of that? (Picture me winking at you.) He claims that “the best burger I’ve ever had was here in Atlanta. Talk to me to find out where!”
I’m sure you’re all eager to hear these fantastic additions to our beloved ASO. I know I’m excited to get on stage with them and start making beautiful music very soon. And maybe after the concert, we’ll go out for Colombian. Or paella. Or tacos. Or…