McGill brothers speak at BGSU

DeMarre McGill (left) speaks near his brother Anthony McGill (right) during a question and answer session with BGSU students at Donnell Theater.

Demarre and Anthony McGill came up with a lot of people watching out for them.

First of all were their parents, both teachers. Growing up on Chicago's South Side, they had to fend off plenty of negative influences, said Anthony McGill, 35.

But Demarre McGill, 39, said their parents made sure they were kept out of trouble.

Instead they were in a local youth orchestra full of talented young African-American musicians like themselves, all from the South Side.

There were music teachers and older students.

For Demarre McGill, there was internationally-renowned flutist Sir James Galway.

McGill recalled meeting him in Chicago at a cafe. The young flutist asked Galway, one of his heroes, for his cadenza on the Khachaturian flute concerto. Galway apologized, saying it hadn't been published.

Some days later, McGill received a package from Switzerland. It contained a manuscript with the cadenza.

They had so many people who watched out for them that now being models for younger musicians "is part of us," Demarre McGill said.

Anthony McGill recalled being approached by a young, classical African-American musician who said his mother put the McGill Brothers' photo up on the refrigerator.

The McGill Brothers were on campus Monday as the Dorothy E. and DuWayne H. Hansen Series artists.

They met with students, taught a master class and performed an evening recital.

Demarre McGill, as the elder, inspired his younger brother. He would get up to practice his flute at 5 a.m., and his younger brother said he doesn't remember complaining. Not that he had a choice.

At one point, even after he started playing clarinet, he said he wanted to play flute. His mother refused. She didn't want her two sons playing the same instrument.

Both brothers have ascended the heights of classical music as orchestral players, chamber musicians and soloists. Anthony McGill recently was appointed principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic after years as principal with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Demarre is principal flute of the Dallas Symphony.

In a question and answer session Monday they spoke about what it takes to excel at an audition and manage a career in the 21st century.

Demarre McGill spoke of his time 16 years ago, fresh out of Juilliard, and going to audition after audition.

For a year and a half he auditioned. "It's very difficult to win an orchestra job," he said.

"I was depressed. ... I had to wrap my head around the idea I'd never play a Brahms symphony again."

But he persisted.

The flutist said he doesn't strive to play the best he's ever played in an audition. Rather, he wants to play as he normally does. He doesn't strive for perfection, instead looking "to create an atmosphere" for the jurors on the other side of the screen.

He wants them, he said, to feel the silence before the first notes of the solo from "Afternoon of a Faun."

"I want to make a world of music in those 30 seconds."

For Anthony McGill, it's about putting into practice all the approaches he's been taught. It means being diligent focusing on the orchestral excerpts. It means using a metronome. It means executing 10 mock auditions.

When he was a student at Curtis Institute, which his brother also attended, the focus was on getting a job in an orchestra. Now musicians have a range of possibilities, the clarinetist said.

Anthony McGill said he sees musicians staging their own concerts and performance series. Often this involves a close relationship between the performers and composers.

About eight years ago, Demarre McGill said he and a colleague from the San Diego Orchestra founded Art of Elan to reach out to unconventional audiences.

They did so by establishing the project's entity. "We wanted the focus to be on us-slash-the organization, not on the music, not on the performers," he said. "We wanted to create an environment where people were just curious and the program was so short that it's OK if they didn't like one piece. They would love the experience."

He said they found that as the orchestra veered to playing mostly warhorses, some of those conservative audience members became Art of Elan's most faithful listeners.

Monday night, the brothers performed accompanied by Irish pianist Michael McHale, whom Anthony Demarre described as "a pot of gold we found at the end of a rainbow." This was their first performance together.

The clarinetist told the audience that given the brothers live on opposite sides of the country, they seldom get to play together. "This is special for us."

"Seeing him a few times a year is not enough," Demarre McGill said of his brother.

Fittingly, they performed a playful program, drawing not only applause but laughter from the audience.

The clarinetist noted they like to move when they play. And so they did. They twisted their torsos and swung upward as if to toss the notes aloft. Playing a series of waltzes by Dmitri Shostakovich, they stepped like ballroom dancers.

As the program ended, Demarre McGill thanked the university, saying they'd had "a wonderfully jam-packed day."

He thanked the Hansens, who attended all the day's events, for funding the residency.

Then the brothers closed with another dance, a tarantella by Camille Saint-Saens.

The last time they'd played the piece, the flutist said, was 21 years ago when they visited "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."