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Joseph Conyers - Behind the Scenes

September 26, 2014

Joseph Conyers Associate Principal Bass

Each month in the Orchestra’s Playbill, we feature one musician in a question-and-answer segment. Below is that feature in its entirety.

Where were you born? I was born in Savannah, GA.

What piece of music could you play over and over again? Hmm there are a lot: the first movement from Brahms’s Symphony No. 4, Ravel’s Mother Goose, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Puccini’s La bohème, Britten’s Peter Grimes … I could go on and on. I love it all!

What’s your favorite Philadelphia restaurant? I don’t eat out enough to know. 

If you could ask one composer one question what would it be? Stravinsky: What were you thinking? (In reference to The Rite of Spring.)

What piece of music never fails to move you? Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major, his Requiem … almost anything by Brahms for that matter.

When did you join the Orchestra? In 2010.

Do you play any other instruments? I used to be quite good on piano (I started at age five). For a long time I thought that the piano would be my major in college.

What’s your favorite type of food? Sweets—cakes in particular. I’m happy with a good old Southern Pound Cake, but some of my favorites are carrot cake and red velvet cake. The richer the better, and preferably with vanilla ice cream.

What books are on your nightstand? I spend a lot of time writing. Most of my reading these days is from an electronic device (sorry purists!). 

Tell us about your instrument. Her name is Norma. Norma and I met for the first time in 2005. But, when we first met, I was so convinced that she was so way out of my league, that I didn’t pursue her for a while. However, the opportunity presented itself that I actually might be able to afford her, and thanks to the Grand Rapids Symphony the possibility of a relationship was no longer out of the question.

Norma was born in 1802 in England to an Italian family—the Panormos. Her father was Vincenzo Panormo, and, of course, her mother was Mother Nature. She was previously owned by bass pedagogue Fred Zimmerman who was a member of the New York Philharmonic in the 1950s and ’60s. The bass was sold to his student Bob Gladstone—also a member of the Philharmonic who won the position of principal bass of the Detroit Symphony. It was in Detroit where Norma stayed until Mr. Gladstone’s death in the early 2000s. His widow allowed for one of Mr. Gladstone’s former students, Steven Riley, to handle the selling of the instrument. His shop is located in downtown Grand Rapids, which is where Norma and I met—with my first job with that orchestra back in 2005. Riley just so happens to be one of the most highly respected bass luthiers in the country. As a matter of fact, one of his basses (one of his bass children) is actually played in The Philadelphia Orchestra by another member of the bass section.

What’s in your instrument case? You’re most likely to find old rosin, a few pencils, and maybe a powerbar or two.

Do you speak any other languages? No.

Do you follow any blogs? Nothing in particular. I browse from site to site.

Do you have any hobbies? I run a growing nonprofit organization. I’m also a fitness enthusiast, having competed in natural bodybuilding competitions for the past three years.

Is there a piece of music that isn’t in the standard orchestral repertoire that should be? Anything by Carl Nielson. Why on earth is his music not performed more often? Many of his symphonies as well as smaller pieces deserve to be part of the standard repertoire. They’re terrific!

What’s your most treasured possession? I don’t know if I have one.

What’s the last recording you purchased? Who knows? Thanks to Spotify I’m browsing and listening to new and different recordings ALL THE TIME—on an almost daily basis.

What’s on your iPod? You mean my Android telephone?? J Symphonies, operas, some chamber music, a little gospel, and believe it or not, a small potpourri of popular artists whose tunes I find catchy or interesting or who’s talent as an artist (at least to me) is worth noting.

Do you have a favorite movie? It’s hard for me to pick favorites.

When was the first time you heard The Philadelphia Orchestra? As a freshman at the Curtis Institute of Music in the fall of 1999 at the Academy of Music.

Other than Verizon Hall, where is your favorite place to perform? Probably Carnegie Hall. I know it’s almost a bit cliché, but the history there is overwhelming, and it also simply happens to be one of the great acoustical gems in the world.

Photo by Stewart Traver

Read other "Musicians Behind the Scenes" Playbill features.