Molly Orlando is a D.C.-based classical pianist and teacher specializing in new music. She is one of the pianists for the Great Noise Ensemble, a new local music initiative, and will be the soloist in the world premiere of a new piano concerto tonight at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H St. NE, at 8:00pm. We caught up with her about New Classical, pizza, Ben Folds vs that piano playing dog from the Muppets and more.
BYT: You’re a new mother, it’s been hard to find time to play the piano?
Molly Orlando: Yes.
BYT: And now that you’re doing that again, is it a relief?
MO: It feels so great to be able to practice again. And to be really working on this thing. But at the same time every hour that I’m practicing and I’m not with the baby, I hate it.
BYT: The duality of woman.
MO: The guilt is nerve-wracking.
BYT: Guilt? You don’t feel guilty when you’re with the baby and not playing piano?
MO: I do, it goes both ways.
BYT: Oh my goodness. tell me about the piece you’re playing.
MO: It’s me, it’s solo piano with chamber orchestra. It’s called ‘the curse of sophistication’.
BYT: So this is your first comeback?
MO: (Laughs) My first comeback? My grand re-entry.
BYT: Do you ever get nervous?
MO: Not as much as I used to. I went through a period of getting so nervous that I would get up on stage and wish I was anywhere but there. but I’ve gotten over that.
BYT: Are you a nervous person in general?
MO: Nervous bordering on neurotic (laughs).
BYT: So do you get less tense when the pressure is on? Because you seem to be a tense person in general. Maybe there’s an inverse relationship between tension and pressure.
MO: No. there is no inverse relationship, but the tense thing works for me. I am good at preparing. I like to have a goal. I just don’t like being put on the spot
MO: Do you want to know my three biggest fears in life?
MO: My first fear is dairy. Spoiled dairy, specifically.
BYT: That is a completely rational fear (laughs).
MO: My second fear is audience participation comedy. Of any sort.
BYT: Not as rational a fear. But understandable.
MO: And my third fear is talking on the phone to someone I don’t know. Specifically to order food.
BYT: Completely irrational. See there’s a spectrum there, you went from totally rational, and I was on board, to kind of crazy. But there seems to be a unifying theme there and that is:
MO: Fear of spontaneity—well, except for the spoiled dairy thing. If you tell me Im going to have to give a speech to 1200 people, no problem. If you call me up on stage to unexpectedly banter or interact…
BYT: Or order a pizza?
BYT: Interesting, what do you think that’s rooted in? Something in your childhood. Probably some rotten yogurt in your childhood.
BYT: Where were we?
BYT: What’s the composer’s name?
MO: Daniel Felsenfeld.
BYT: Felsyfeld. What’s his first name again, Danny?
MO: Felsenfeld. Daniel Felsenfeld.
BYT: Let me guess. Neurotic? You don’t have to answer that.
MO: IHe’s a composer writing now, based in Brooklyn. We met the other night to talk about the piece and get to know each other, and it was awesome. I’m so excited about it.
BYT: “What’s my motivation?”
MO: The title is ‘the curse of sophistication’ which is a lyric from an Elvis Costello song. And the names of the three movements are opportunity, temptation and possession, which are three Elvis Costello songs. I don’t know Elvis Costello songs so I wanted to know what the piece means. It’s not pop music. It’s new Classical. but it’s not really based on those songs; the piece is, to some extent, supposed to be a window into what it’s like to be an artist—to write a piece, to prepare, the whole artistic process, the demands, etc.
BYT: Is it Like Phillip Glass?
MO: No, it’s not minimal. It’s new classical music. he has his own style.
BYT: I have no frame of reference for that. Tell me what that means in ten words or less. Actually five words or less. Oh you can’t be put on the spot, I forgot.
MO: This is my nightmare.
MO: (silence) Cheese… and pepperoni.
BYT: That’s new classical. Is that Felsenfeld’s piece? Cheese and pepperoni? Don’t be bound by five words, just tell me what new classical is.
MO: At this stage, it’s whatever the composer wants it to be. there are really no rules of ‘acceptability’ anymore.
BYT: Tell me about your day job…
MO: My day job. I teach piano lessons. I have an insane number of students.
BYT: Like school of rock. But classical. School of classical. You are the Jack Black of classical.
MO: Let’s talk about new classical music.
BYT: What is new classical music?
MO: It really can be anything. There are so many styles of classical music.
BYT: Is there something that distinguishes it from traditional classical music? Or are there people that are writing music that sounds like traditional and is played like traditional but are considered new classical?
MO: Yes. It just means music being written now.
BYT: That’s a very wide genre. Are you writing your own music?
MO: No, I perform what has been written. I write nothing. never have. It is my job to perform what is on the page.
BYT: Are There are things that are specifically you that come out? Every performing musician at this point has their his own style. What is your style?
MO: I hate that question.
BYT: I know you do. Too bad.
MO: I’ll list my strengths instead. For being a tiny person I have a huge sound. I can also learn things insanely quickly—at least, I could before I had a baby. I take on things that many others would turn down. and, only recently, I think I’m finally developing a real sense of pacing, instead of just playing everything really fast. Ugh, I feel like I’m speaking too highly of myself.
BYT: Go ahead, it’s your time to shine.
MO: I don’t know what else.
BYT: I guess it just has to be seen. It’s indefinable. Who is your favorite piano (pause) player. (Pause) Ben Folds, right?
MO: Not really.
BYT: Wait let me finish. Who is your favorite piano player… Ben Folds or Rowlf the piano playing dog from the Muppets?
MO: Ben Folds.
BYT: Wrong answer. The answer is Rowlf. The answer is always Rowlf. Do you ever get stage fright? Well not stage fright, but…
MO: Performance anxiety?
BYT: No. (laughs) Performance anxiety??? Writer’s block.
MO: If you’re playing a piece from memory then sure. You have memory slips. Especially as a pianist. Pianists as soloists are usually expected to memorize everything.
BYT: Without looking at the notes?
MO: That’s what memorizing means, yes. (laughs)
BYT: Feisty. Is there competition between string instrumentalists and wind instrumentalists?
MO: (Laughs) This is like a bad first date conversation.
BYT: What is a DJ?
MO: What IS a DJ?
BYT: Is a DJ new classical? Is dubstep new classical?
MO: I’m going to say no, but I honestly have to ask: What is dubstep?
BYT: What did the Supreme Court say about pornography? I could never succeed in successfully defining it, but I know it when I see it. That’s how I feel about dubstep. I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I hear it. It’s like bwwwwaaaaa bwaaaaaaaa bbbbbwwwwaaaaaaa. Bwwwwaaaaaa bwwwwwwwwwaaaaaaaaa. The pitch changes dramatically.
BYT: Sorry, interlude. What did you want to talk about, new classical?
MO: My personal opinion of it is that we have to change the way that classical music is perceived in order to garner a larger audience. I don’t think you have to change the way that it’s written, I think you have to change the way that it’s presented.
BYT; Lipstick on a pig.
MO: You have to take away the stuffiness. I think that there’s been a long history of elitism, of people being uncomfortable to go to a concert because they think they will feel stupid.
BYT: Do people get shit for rock and rollifying the genre? Is the community anti-anti-establishment?
MO: I think there are probably two camps, at least. I think there is definitely a camp that is very happy with sequins-at-the-opera.
BYT: Probably divided by age. You’re not trying to change the way it’s presented to older people?
MO: Le Pouissan Rouge is a good example in New York City. It’s a bar and club that they have classical concerts. It’s a bar. You can have a drink, you can talk during the performance.
BYT: Le Pouissan Rouge where BYT is having their monthly Chillmore Girls events?
MO: Yes (laughs) that’s the one. But Not everyone who wants to hear classical music is going to go to a bar or wants to go to a bar to hear it. I think that something has to be changed in the way that it’s presented in order to bring the audience in as part of the experience. Not to dumb down the music. You just need to communicate to the audience in a way that makes them feel that they are along for the ride.
BYT: Less elitist.
MO: Yes, less elitist. I’m a big fan of talking about the music I’m about to play. I like to banter. Not talk about the history of the piece or how it fits into the cannon canon of classical Western classical music. But what your personal experience was with this piece.
BYT: Storytelling… Are you funny when you do it? Do you add a comedic element to your storytelling?
MO: (laughs) I add comedy, to some extent. The perception of that comedy is probably up for interpretation.