Concerto for violin No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041 ~ J. S. Bach
Robert Lehmann, violin
August 29, 2010


Robert Lehmann is Professor of Music and Director of Strings and Orchestral Activities at the University of Southern Maine School of Music where he conducts the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra and the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his duties at USM, he is Music Director of the North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra, and the White Mountain Bach Festival in New Hampshire.

He holds degrees in Violin Performance from the University of the Pacific, the Eastman School and Boston University and has been a fellow at the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Festival and at the Conductors Institute at Bard College.

Dr. Lehmann has concertized as violinist and conductor, in his native Mexico, throughout the US, Puerto Rico and in Europe and Ukraine. He has been of frequent guest conductor with the Portland Symphony and has conducted All-State and Festival Orchestras from Maine to California and Hawaii. Prior to his appointment at USM, he was Music Director of the Mozart Society Orchestra at Harvard, and on the conducting staff of the Greater Boston and the Empire State Youth Orchestras. He is first violinist of the Meliora Quartet and concertmaster of the PORTOpera and Choral Art Society. He is in demand as a performer, conductor, teacher and adjudicator and is listed in Who's Who in American Music. His CD, “Chamber Music for String by Manuel M. Ponce” was issued by Centaur Records in 2009. He has given numerous word premieres including Elliot Schwartz' "Concerto VI: Mr. Jefferson" and Portland Ballet’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. His 2012 performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 3, was named the top performance event of the Portland concert season by the Portland Press Herald.

Dr. Lehmann resides in Scarborough, Maine with his wife Kim, a violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, and their two sons, Eric and Alex.

Weekly Interview: Robert Lehmann Oct. 26, 2007
Posted by Gazette Editor at 10/26/2007
By Cliff White
Staff Writer

Robert Lehmann doesn’t think, as many others do, that classical music is dying. He just thinks it lacks a decent public relations campaign.

Lehmann, 39, a Scarborough resident and professor of music at the University of Southern Maine, has long focused his energy on the future of classical music: its next generation. He has served as conductor for a number of youth orchestras and holds a firm conviction that classical music can have a significant positive impact on a young person’s development.

“Classical music is suffering from a lack of understanding because our priorities in the public schools are not directed toward the arts. I think the arts are very, very important for the human condition,” Lehmann says. “They have been proven over and over again to be beneficial in terms of intellectual development, socialization skills and the creation of your own personality.”

Lehmann speaks from first-hand experience. Since he picked up a violin for the first time at the age of 12, his life has been shaped by music.

“Ever since I was a kid, I have been surrounded by classical music. I can’t get enough of it. I love it,” Lehmann says. “It speaks to me in a very personal way. It moves and excites me.”

Lehmann was born in Mexico City to a musical family. His mother was a professional violinist in the National Symphony of Mexico. Lehmann was given opportunities to play both the violin and the piano in his younger years, but says he did not become interested until he picked up a violin on his own and started without instruction.

“I wasn’t really into [playing] as a kid,” Lehmann says. “One day, I picked up a violin and just started playing it. I would listen to recordings of symphonies and started trying to play along by ear. That led me to play things I probably had no business playing, and somehow the technique found a way to catch on.”
Lehmann says when he first starting playing the violin, he had no formal practice routine rather just played when he felt like it, which he says happened a lot.

“I was essentially self-taught until I was 15,” Lehmann says. “Then it struck me I would get a lot better if I had some instruction. At that point, I was ready to go on and get a teacher.”

The instruction enhanced and honed Lehmann’s innate natural ability. By the age of 17, he had graduated high school a year early from a conservatory and was playing violin alongside his mother in the National Symphony of Mexico.

“It’s an eye-opening experience, playing with a professional orchestra at 17,” Lehmann says, “but it was a lot of fun to play together with my mother.”

Lehmann attended college in the United States, at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California on a full scholarship.

“One of my professors was stunned that I had never played a three-octave scale, and I had never played a piece by memory. That didn’t last long – he had changed that. He told me, ‘In a month, you’ll be playing the first movement of a concerto from memory. So get working.’”

At graduation, he was named the Outstanding Graduating Senior of the Conservatory of Music. Lehmann then went to work on a master’s degree in music at the University of Rochester in New York. While there, he played in the school’s philharmonic orchestra for two years and was named concertmaster in his second year, a high honor marking him as a preeminent violinist. He also participated in summer residence at the Schlossfestspiele, an opera company, in Heidelberg, Germany.

“It was a wonderful experience being a young person living in Germany,” Lehmann says.

He continued his education, obtaining a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Boston University. It was at this time that he began actively pursuing another musical outlet – conducting. He served as conductor of the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Empire State Youth Repertory Orchestra, the Rhode Island Youth Philharmonic and the Mozart Society Orchestra at Harvard University.

“I’ve seen music transform kids,” Lehmann says. “Some extremely shy kids are able to really blossom through their instruments. Many of the kids that select the arts find great camaraderie, companionship and socialization in youth ensemble programs. I think it’s just as necessary as any sports program is for sports minded people – and a lot of kids I have worked with have done both.”

Lehmann says conducting is much different than playing the violin.

“As a violinist you can always practice on the instrument any time you want, but the only time a conductor gets to practice is when the entire orchestra is assembled,” says Lehmann, who adds a symphonic or philharmonic orchestra is composed of about 80 to 100 performers.

Among Lehmann’s many titles and accolades, he is also music director at the North Shore Philharmonic in Massachusetts and music director of the Portland Chamber Orchestra. Lehmann says he often ends up with a lot on his plate because he has a hard time turning down opportunities. “For a young conductor, I can’t say no to these opportunities,” he says. “I take advantage of them to learn as much as I can.”

He says every conductor has his own style and it is especially interesting to watch different conductors conduct the same piece of music.

“Even before the music has started, the way the conductor stands on the podium already begins to affect the musicians’ psyche,” Lehmann says. “That’s what allows the same orchestra to play the same piece with a different conductor and get a completely different sonority and interpretation.”

Lehmann describes his own style as dynamic.

“I wear my heart on my sleeve. I take a lot of risks,” he says. “I would rather have a moving and powerful performance even if there are a few flaws in it to a note-perfect but bland performance. The audience, I think, wants to see people take risks.”

Lehmann compares conducting to cooking.

“There’s a process to creating and serving a meal which similar to conducting,” Lehmann says. “There are just certain things that go together. You have to know when to add salt and pepper, know when to reduce the heat on something when something is starting to burn. And you bring all the entrees to the table for the performance.”

Lehmann says what he loves most about conducting is his ability to use a large group of musicians to shape and impart his art on an audience.

“I couldn’t think of a better job,” Lehmann says. “It’s the ability to extract the best I can from the players, to inspire them, and to be inspired by them, and to recreate music written on a page for listeners.”
The conductor says he thinks it’s important for people going to a musical performance to have an understanding of what they are listening.

“I have an analogy I draw for classical music,” he says. “It’s like visiting a museum. Why do people go to a museum? To appreciate the wonderful works of art created by geniuses and masters. But you enjoy your experience at a museum so much more if you have an understanding of what you’re going to see. The same is true of going to a concert hall. It’s so much more meaningful if you have some understanding of what you’re listening to.”

Lehmann hopes to get more people in southern Maine interested in classical music.
“Music speaks different things to different people and inspires them in different ways,” he says. “My hope is that others may have a chance to experience the passion that I have for music.” |

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