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Orchestral Maneuvers 

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It’s a bright but cold Wednesday afternoon outside Bard’s Avery Blum music complex, home to Tsontakis’s cavernous classroom. The class is tiny, only six students. Above the flushed cheeks of these young composers in the making are furrowed brows and squinted eyes, their owners focused intensely as the class dissects Debussy’s second “Voile” prelude and analyzes its composer’s Zen-like approach. But between the academic talk of stressed C notes and French augmented 6th chords, there are quirky moments of levity. Holding up a half-full bottle of Pepsi, Tsontakis asks, “You see this? Caffeine. Very important to a composer.” The air of seriousness is broken with laughter. Later, on the piano, he demonstrates a characteristic motif, comparing it to the theme from “The Jetsons.” More laughter. And then it’s back to work.
“George has a very good understanding of community,” says student Philip Meir Siblo-Landsman, 23, who, incidentally, wrote the music for the production of “As You Like It” in which Tsontakis is starring. “You really feel like he’s in there with you. He really pays attention to what each student is doing.”

Indeed, it’s clear these kids are here because they want to be here, and they’re absolutely riveted throughout the class. For a music writer, it’s difficult to stay in journalist mode and observe the professor and his class; the urge to start taking notes along with the students proves strong. Consider that an endorsement of both the fascinating topic and the maestro’s teaching abilities.

So as Tsontakis ascends to his coming three years of composing in wooded solitude, he follows in the footsteps of his famed mentor, passing on his profoundly creative gifts to their appreciative heirs and morphing into that young person in the wiser, older body.

Unless, of course, the footlights finally win out. You never know.

In composer and Village Voice music critic Kyle Gann’s blog, “PostClassic” (www.artsjournal.com/postclassic), Tsontakis’s friend and fellow Bard professor writes of seeing Tsontakis in the role of Otto Frank in the Shandaken Theatrical Society’s 2006 production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” “He acquitted himself well,” Gann writes. “[Though] I hope he won’t quit the day job.”

The Albany Symphony with violinist Cho-Liang Lin will perform George Tsontakis’s first Violin Concerto at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Albany on March 24. (518) 273-0038; www.troymusichall.org.

click to enlarge DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah Degraffenreid
click to enlarge DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah Degraffenreid
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