Doug O’ConnorAugust 15, 2010
Current DMA student and Arts Leadership Program fellow Doug O’Connor already has an established career, having performed in concert halls in Europe, Asia, and the U.S., including appearances at the Kimmel Center, the Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall. Doug is also the soprano saxophonist with the Red Line Sax Quartet, which has won gold medals at five major national and international chamber music competitions in the past year alone and recently released their debut album, “Back Burner.” Hear what Doug has to say about his experiences with Red Line as well as being an Astral Artist, his commitment to community engagement, and what skills he has drawn upon from the Arts Leadership Program.
As an emerging young artist, you have received countless prizes and performed at major concert halls around the world, both as soloist and with your saxophone ensemble, the Red Line Quartet. In launching your performance career, what skills or learning have you drawn upon from your experience in the Arts Leadership Program?
In particular, the ALP course on digital portfolio creation has had an especially profound effect on my career. In response to the videos I’ve posted on YouTube of live performances, for example, I’ve received invitations for gigs in NYC and Philadelphia and I’ve even had a piece written for me by a major saxophone composer. When it comes to creating yourself as a brand name, the internet is an incredible, accessible, affordable opportunity for any independent artist. In addition, the websites that I’ve built both for myself and the Red Line Sax Quartet would have looked woefully amateurish had it not been for my experience with technological applications in ALP courses. I’m very thankful for this training.
Finally, ALP has helped me figure out how I will “make it” after school: there’s a mysterious gap between unknown artists and the heavily visible classical music superstars. ALP helps a student know how to begin, at least, when it comes to finally confronting that gap in our own careers. Through ALP I got chances to meet other artists out of school and “making it,” I learned about how to build an audience base, a varied skill set, a marketable brand name, how to release a CD (Red Line’s “Back Burner”), and how to deliver pre-concert talks better, appealing to different intelligences, etc.
As a member of Philadelphia-based non-profit Astral Artists, you have performed scores of recitals in community venues. How does community engagement fit into your artistic vision and goals? Has the Arts Leadership Program influenced your desire to engage in community outreach?
Community engagement is part of the Eastman School of Music mission statement, and so it weaves its way into education here in a way that isn’t limited to ALP. However, ALP does also offer classes that directly address how to appeal to different listeners, which is what Outreach is all about: there are people out there either unable or unlikely to attend a saxophone concert, and giving performances for them is both enriching for the community as well as the artist. With Astral Artists, my performances for various Outreach venues have taught me a lot about how important music is to so many people, and they have also given me opportunities to perform more adventurous repertoire and try new ideas. This “safe zone” for experimentation is critical, especially when preparing for a large musical event, such as an international competition or high-profile recital. Doing Outreach performances always reminds me of how important my audience is in any musical experience.
What do you believe to be the importance of actively seeking and creating opportunities for yourself as a young professional musician? Do you have any advice for other young musicians trying to launch their careers?
A curious thing about music or art in general, is that it can be simultaneously seen as both important and expendable. The perceived importance, I don’t think, will ever die, but it always seems to struggle for visibility. Because of this, it seems we young musicians are always faced with the task of creating opportunity where there isn’t one, or at least being extremely competitive and ready for when great preexisting ones present themselves. However, the other thing is that every musician’s passion is unique and different: some people thrive in chamber music, some don’t. For all that people may think they want to be the next Hilary Hahn or Lang Lang, perhaps few of them would really enjoy the lonely lifestyle of a traveling soloist. For all the people who have dreamed of playing in a major orchestra all their life, certainly not all of them find the happiness they imagined for themselves within the unionized lock-down of actually being in one. I’m not bringing this up to suggest a bleak picture, but rather to suggest that many of us young musicians lack the confidence and boldness to just go after what we really want. Here, an act of self-discovery will make obvious which opportunities need to be developed in each of our careers. Figuring out what we really want is hard enough, and then just having the bravery to go after it—without holding back—is the next thing. If I were to offer advice to other performers seeking to make their career, it would be to maintain a sense of urgency in one’s work ethic, regardless of achievements, and to actively engage with all the people met along the way. For me, anyhow, this whole profession is about people, and music is simply our preferred method of convening with them (I’ve heard similar things said about business, or car sales, or other seemingly unrelated things as well).
Where do you hope to venture professionally after completing your DMA at Eastman? What are your hopes for the future of the Red Line Sax Quartet?
I hope to build my career as a chamber musician and freelance soloist in the Philadelphia area after I graduate. I don’t know what exactly I will do, but I think I’ll be able figure it out one step at a time. Certainly, the lessons I’ve learned with ALP and Astral will be a tremendous advantage. The future of Red Line is uncertain, since some of our members are going back to their own far away homes or are choosing different career paths (the military, education, etc.). It is my hope to keep Red Line’s brand name and standard of musicianship alive regardless, but again, it won’t be clear how to do this except to just do what’s best in each moment that presents itself.
Doug O’Connor – Biography
Winner of Astral Artists’ 2003 National Auditions, 26-year-old Doug O’Connor was also recently named 2nd Prize winner of the 2nd International Jean-Marie Londeix Saxophone Competition in Bangkok, 2nd Prize winner in the 2008 North American Saxophone Alliance Classical Solo Competition, the 1st Prize National Winner of the MTNA Young Artist Woodwind Competition in Toronto, and he has appeared in American Symphony Orchestra League magazine as a 2007 Emerging Artist. In addition, he was named the winner of the 2004 National Symphony Orchestra Young Soloists Competition, the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s Mary Graham Lasley competition, and recently won Eastman’s prestigious Graduate Teaching Assistant Prize and Performer’s Certificate.
Mr. O’Connor has performed in Europe, Asia, and the U.S., including appearances at the Kimmel Center, the Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall. His teachers include Ramon Ricker, Chien-Kwan Lin, Dale Underwood and Timothy Roberts. In 2005 he received his Bachelor of Music Performance degree in saxophone from the University of Maryland, where he was also music director and conductor of its Philharmonia Ensemble chamber orchestra, and in 2008 he has recently received his Master of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music.
Committed to performing a wide variety of music, including transcriptions, traditional repertoire, chamber works, contemporary music, and world-premieres, O’Connor’s passion lies in making classical music come alive for all kinds of people. Astral Artists, a Philadelphia non-profit classical artist development agency, has presented O’Connor in over 70 recitals for community centers, schools, and senior homes, and also in ticketed events in many major USA concert venues: a world-premiere program featuring other Astral artists at Philadelphia’s new National Constitution Center, a “Rising Stars” concert (as soloist with The Haddonfield Symphony Chamber Orchestra in Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto), as well as in recital at the Trinity Center, the Kimmel Center, Merkin Hall in New York City, and more events this upcoming season.
Mr. O’Connor is currently pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts in Saxophone Performance at the Eastman School of Music, where he has performed and recorded with the prestigious Eastman Wind Ensemble, the Canadian Brass, Bill Dobbins, and where he coaches the undergraduate saxophone quartet program. O’Connor is also the soprano saxophonist with the Red Line Sax Quartet, which has won gold medals at five major national and international chamber music competitions in the past year alone and recently released their debut album, “Back Burner.” In the upcoming season, O’Connor’s busy performance schedule will feature him in cities around the country, including in Bangkok as a soloist with the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra.
Back Burner CD