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Both Bow and Baton

March 11, 2010

Ovidiu Marinescu enjoys wearing two hats: musician and conductor.

The West Chester University faculty cellist’s schedule in 2008 so far has included five concerts and three roles as conductor, resident artist and artistic director of an international festival, along with a host of master classes.

Regardless of which role he inhabits, Marinescu says, “I have to get into the composer’s soul – the energy and the emotions – to convey it to an audience. To transcend the page – that’s the true reason we do what we do. You cannot move people if you are not honest.”

One of Marinescu’s personal epiphanies came during his first recording with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra and its conductor, Konstantin Krimets, when he asked the conductor for career advice. Marinescu describes Krimets’ response passionately in his blog:

“’To be a great artist you must be not right.’

 “My first thought was that he made a grammar mistake and meant something else… And then … it hit me.

“We have to make a composer’s work our own, and bend it and twist it and become it, and play it spontaneously as if we make it up on the spot, and do whatever it takes to make it powerful so it moves people. If we play it pre-designed, pre-calculated, it is only canned and it will be one out of thousands of similar items. …”

Growing up in communist Romania, he did not know the freedom of expression, let alone freedom of frequent travel. Marinescu came to the U.S. as part of a string quintet and to earn his graduate degrees [his doctorate from Temple University and his master’s from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in addtion to his bachelor’s degree in music from Bucharest Conservatory. “I immigrated to America for freedom of expression, which in communist Romania, was constantly restricted,” he says.

Now a dual citizen, Marinescu came from a family in which competition was not between him and his brother, but between cousins. His brother Liviu is coordinator of music composition and theory in the music department at California State University, Northridge. Cousin Camil is an internationally acclaimed conductor and cousin Ciprian is concert master of the Osaka Symphony in Japan.
Spanning the roles of musician and conductor, Marinescu says, “I take the responsibility of doing two things and maintaining high standards for both.”

As a conductor, he established several community orchestras because “the opportunities for musicians today are extremely limited.

“Musicians have been in an ivory tower for decades,” he adds,” and it’s our responsibility to bring music to the people.”

That, and creating opportunities for musicians are the impetus for Marinescu to establish groups such as the Delaware Chamber Orchestra, which he founded and took on tour to the South Bohemia Festival in the Czech Republic, and the Wilmington Community Orchestra, which he developed and conducted until recently.

He believes these community connections also benefit West Chester students, who “get more and better learning opportunities and employment opportunities while they’re still students,” he notes.
And those students are “the best thing about this university. So are my colleagues. The students are honest, they have good values and they are supportive of one another. Education here isn’t a cutthroat competition.

Other students also make Marinescu proud. He calls his experience in January with the District 12 high school orchestra at the Lancaster-Lebanon Music Educator's Association festival “one of my most rewarding experiences” as conductor.

“I was impressed with the sensitivity and maturity of the students, who did not know one another, or if they did [from previous festivals], they still had not played together.”

The cellist/conductor took the 22 best string students in that region and, in 12 hours of rehearsals, coalesced them into a coherent musical ensemble, producing a memorable one-hour performance.

Marinescu continues to connect with youth and adults here and abroad, beyond the classroom and as conductor of the West Chester University Symphony Orchestra. The cellist performed at the Academy of Music March 3, both solo and with fellow West Chester faculty member Carl Cranmer on piano, and in January, he served as artistic director of the Samuel Barber International Music Institute at West Chester.

He is anticipating the release of a world premier of Samuel Barber’s orchestral songs, which he recorded last summer in Russia with the Russian Philharmonic, Cranmer and two other School of Music faculty (Randall Scarlata and Emily Bullock). And he is preparing to return to Romania in May to conduct the Ploiest Philharmonic in a program of works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield.

Ovidiu Marinescu is an assistant professor in the Applied Music department at West Chester University and the Head of the String Department at the Wilmington Music School.