Ever go to a UW orchestra concert and wonder who that handsome male stranger is up on the podium? (We all know Prof. James Smith is handsome, but he’s not a stranger.) If it was fairly recently, it was likely David Grandis, a native of France who just finished his doctorate in conducting under Prof. James Smith. David has now left us for a promising career in the D.C. area, and has written a post to tell us about himself and his time at UW-Madison.
“I started my musical studies in France at the age of five, mostly solfège (sight-singing) at first, because a piano student at the conservatory wasn’t allowed to touch the keyboard before having done two years of theoretical training. Unfortunately, this completely destroyed my initial enthusiasm for this instrument. I then switched to trombone.
“After my high school diploma in performance, I decided to concentrate on conducting, and spent about ten hours a day on theory, voice, various instruments, and musicology. And, as conducting studies in France rarely give the opportunity to the students to conduct an orchestra, I created my own chamber ensemble. After I completed my BA in Musicology in France (University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis), I started to look for a master’s program somewhere in the US.
“I loved the USA, having been raised with a sense of gratitude toward this country because my grandfather was a general in the French army and fought with the American army during the Second World War.
“I decided to study with Donald Schleicher at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I met my wife. She and I spent a few years apart while I worked with a few orchestras in France; I then returned to the US and to do a graduate performance diploma at the Peabody Institute with Gustav Meier. His teaching was really interesting but I hated the atmosphere, the pushiness of some conducting students, the lack of commitment of the school toward its conducting students.
“I then worked with a couple of orchestras around Washington DC and also in France, but finally decided to go back to school for a DMA. I was growing more interested in an academic career because I’ve always thrived on the enthusiasm of students. I find them refreshing and inspiring.
(Click the link below to watch David Grandis conducting the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Samuel Barber’s Medea’s Meditation and Dance for Vengeance, March 2012. You might even recognize a few people in the audience!)
“Where to study for a DMA in conducting? I realized there weren’t that many programs around the US. I was a bit older and didn’t want to deal with a megalomaniac and/or dogmatic teacher (it actually goes together most of the time, like a doubly bad deal). Donald Schleicher recommended that I audition for James Smith at UW-Madison and I felt right away that it was the place to be. I’ve never felt so glad in my studies and the reality exceeded my expectations. UW-Madison has offered me my best experience in my entire journey. The staff, including Marina Drake, Todd Welbourne and Ben Schultz, has always been helpful and committed to my success and the program was designed to complete my knowledge in whatever needed to be completed. It was very flexible.
“I decided to minor in opera performance because I’ve always loved the lyric and because the opera program at UW is really exceptional; there is nothing comparable in French conservatories. William Farlow is a gem and the voice faculty has produced a lot of students who started a career on professional stages. (In fact, for my final DMA project, I focused on opera; more specifically, on the French style of opera singing. The book will soon be published in French and in English in both countries. The English title will be “The Voice of France: the Golden Age of the RTLN (‘Réunions des Théâtres Lyriques Nationaux’)” published by MJW Féditions, Paris).
“I also loved studying orchestral bowing technique with Felicia Moye, a great musician and so devoted to her students. And it was a privilege to hear the Pro Arte Quartet on a regular basis and to be reminded what music is all about by these tremendous artists.
“Last but not least: Prof. James Smith. He was the perfect teacher to finish my studies with. He was never dogmatic, always very pragmatic, with his feet on the ground, reminding me some fundamentals, suggesting different musical approach, awakening a hidden awareness of the sound. I am getting a bit abstract here but it is difficult to explain these kind of things in concrete terms. I love his intense musicality, his sophistication, his refinement and among the countless things I learnt from him, I finally started to understand how to rehearse by watching him.
“One last word: The students have also nourished me through their talent, their passion and their musicality. It will be painful to part with them, with this university, with this great town, but life must go on and musicians are rarely sedentary. I’m moving back to the East Coast this summer: I will be Music Director of the symphony orchestra at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA and Music Director of the Virginia Chamber Orchestra around DC.”