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  • Musicians of the NSO

Musician Monday: Robert Marler

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Pianist Bob Marler came to Nashville in 1979 to teach at Belmont University, performing occasionally with the Symphony as early as 1983, until he officially joined in 2010. He is a frequent soloist, chamber musician, orchestra musician and accompanist throughout the Midwest and South and has performed with instrumentalists from renowned orchestras worldwide, including the London Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, and others. In his interview we discuss some of the intricacies of orchestral piano playing, his passion for cycling, and how he used to play organ at the rodeo! Please enjoy!

𝘾𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙩𝙚𝙡𝙡 𝙪𝙨 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙦𝙪𝙚 𝙧𝙤𝙡𝙚 𝙖𝙨 𝙖 𝙥𝙞𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙤𝙧𝙘𝙝𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙖?

The piano was not included that much in the orchestra before the 20th century. At the turn of the century, composers began incorporating it more, until the piano became fairly common. There are elaborate parts in Stravinsky’s “Petrushka” and “Symphony in Three Movements,” as well as several difficult piano parts in the symphonies of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Many of the new works that we record by American composers use the piano as a standard orchestral instrument. Their piano parts range from extremely complicated works as difficult as any solo music, to roles that support the orchestra in a more rhythmic or percussive manner. Some of the most challenging piano parts that we have recorded by American composers include works by Roberto Sierra, John Corigliano, and John Adams. At times I’ve had to spend more time learning these orchestral excerpts than I’ve spent learning complete works from the standard solo repertory!

𝙒𝙝𝙤 𝙞𝙨 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙛𝙖𝙫𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙥𝙤𝙨𝙚𝙧 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙥𝙞𝙖𝙣𝙤, 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙭𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙤𝙧𝙘𝙝𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙡 𝙢𝙪𝙨𝙞𝙘? It’s difficult to say, it often depends on what we are playing at the time. I have really enjoyed playing the music of John Williams during our movie series concerts. His works are often very elaborate, but nearly always idiomatic for the instrument. The keyboard writing really fits the hand and may not be as difficult as it sounds. He certainly is the greatest film composer ever, and it was such an honor to have John Williams conduct our opening concert a couple of years ago. I really had to work on those Harry Potter pieces, knowing he would be there conducting them!

𝙃𝙤𝙬 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙖 𝙛𝙖𝙫𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙥𝙤𝙨𝙚𝙧 𝙞𝙣 𝙜𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙡? Currently my favorite composer is Rachmaninov. I’m currently working on the Sonata for Cello and Piano, perhaps my favorite piece.

𝙃𝙤𝙬 𝙙𝙞𝙙 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙉𝙖𝙨𝙝𝙫𝙞𝙡𝙡𝙚, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙙𝙤 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝙢𝙤𝙨𝙩 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙞𝙩𝙮? I came to Nashville many years ago to teach at Belmont University, where I am still a Professor in the School of Music. It is almost unbelievable how much Nashville and Belmont have changed during that time. Nashville has grown into a major city supporting fabulous arts organizations like the Nashville Ballet, Nashville Opera and Nashville Symphony. Belmont’s School of Music has also expanded, going from around 100 music majors when I first arrived, to more than 800 this year. The improvements in all Nashville Arts have contributed to the continued growth and success of Belmont’s School of Music. It is an honor to be a musician in Nashville with a nationally acclaimed orchestra with many Grammy’s to its credit, and I would not choose to live in any other city but Music City!

𝙒𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙨𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙝𝙤𝙗𝙗𝙞𝙚𝙨 𝙤𝙛𝙛 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙪𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩? I love to hike Radnor Lake – one of the most beautiful places in the country – and I periodically return to cycling for some great exercise and to clear my head. Biking has contributed to the biggest adventures of my life. At three different times, I biked from the west coast to Nashville with my friend and colleague, Michael Harrington. The last trip was 3400 miles! Years later I can still tell stories about things that happened on every day of those trips: like being asked to stay in a jail in the Navajo nation for our safety, rather than camping on the reservation or biking the long desolate road called, “Trail of the Graves,” across the desert in 100 degree heat. Aside from that I also especially like technology. I enjoy computers and I’m always looking for high tech toys.

𝙄𝙛 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙬𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙣'𝙩 𝙖 𝙘𝙡𝙖𝙨𝙨𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙡 𝙥𝙞𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩, 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙪𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙬𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙮, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙬𝙝𝙮? I grew up in my family’s music store in Southeast Missouri and was always around all kinds of instruments. I chose trombone in high school and continued to take lessons even while in college. Piano became my primary instrument at around ten, but I was often asked to demonstrate other instruments for sale in our store. I began teaching private piano at the store at age 13. Another interesting childhood job was playing at rodeos and horse shows on a Lowrey Organ in the back of a pickup truck with a Leslie speaker on top. Maybe this prepared me for the very different life I began when I entered college and became a certified classical music nerd in my serious piano studies!

𝙒𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙙𝙤 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙚𝙣𝙟𝙤𝙮 𝙢𝙤𝙨𝙩 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙤𝙧𝙘𝙝𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙖? One of the greatest gifts that I receive by being an orchestral pianist comes from having the best seat in the house. Many great works that we perform only have short excerpts for the keyboard, but when I am not playing, I really enjoy listening and watching my incredible colleagues perform. It is almost unbelievable how good they sound with such limited rehearsal time before a series of performances! I have to admit that I have missed an entrance, maybe more than once, because of focusing on the wonderful sounds of my colleagues. They are amazing even during the first reading!

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