Meet the Musicians: Hornist Mary Beth Orr plays vibrant, brass music to see in planetarium at MSU

J.S. Bach, back in the day, took music out of the church and put it in coffee houses. Frederic Chopin tired of concert halls, preferring to perform in parlors and salons.

In more recent times, violinist Joshua Bell posed as a street performer and busked in a Metro station in Washington D.C. in 2007. Cellist Matt Haimovitz on top of New York City’s urban park, the High Line, entertained urban hikers with music from Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello in 2012.

In 2014, the Axiom Quartet gigged 80 feet below ground in a cave in Boerne, Texas.

That’s inspiration enough for Grand Rapids Symphony’s Mary Beth Orr to reach a little higher.

The French hornist, a recent addition to the Grand Rapids Symphony, plays music for star gazing on Thursday, April 13, in the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University.

The program titled “Dim the Lights,” performed by the Corna Forza Horn Quartet, will be held at 6 p.m. Admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis.

The sales pitch is that the program promises to be “a dynamic performance of bold light, visual displays and vibrant brass music” in the planetarium at 755 Science Road in East Lansing.

“We live in a Hollywood culture, a culture of movies,” Orr said. “Visuals don’t have to take away from the music, and if it can make this really cool experience, why not?”

In Grand Rapids next season, Orr and the orchestra will perform celestial symphonic music in DeVos Performance Hall including Gustav Holst’s suite The Planets on Feb. 2-3, 2018 as part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2017-18 Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series.

Orr, who joined the Grand Rapids Symphony last season as third French horn, currently is a graduate student studying horn performance and also is a Distinguished Fellow at MSU.

Though the members of Corna Forza include men and women, all of the music for “Dim the Lights” was composed by women.

The reality is that not many female composers of brass literature are known or published, so their music isn’t performed much, said Orr, who took second place in the Horn Division of the International Women’s Brass Conference Solo Competition in 2014.

“It’s not because it’s not good music. It’s because it’s habit. People play what they’re familiar with and comfortable with,” Orr said. “We decided to do music by female composers because it was interesting to us. Not for some kind of political platform but because we wanted to do something new and interesting and different.”

“The way you grow is by playing things you haven’t played before,” added Orr, who won second prize in the professional division of the International Horn Competition of America in 2013.

A native of Charleston, South Carolina, who will be a featured chamber soloist this summer in a three-person recital in the Piccolo division of Spoleto Music Festival in Charleston, Orr has performed frequently since 2010 with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, and Midland Symphony Orchestra and has taught at the Interlochen Horn Institute.

Currently, she lives in Mt. Pleasant with her husband, two children, and two dogs, enjoying anything involving the outdoors and water. Recently, Orr and her husband, Kerry Krick, both became certified scuba divers. A practitioner of yoga who also teaches vinyasa, hot vinyasa, and yin yoga, Orr enjoys songwriting and painting in her free time.

If the audience enjoys the program of live music and visuals, Orr hopes to take it to other planetariums.

“I’ve always had been fascinated by how smart it is to help your audience along by incorporating visual enhancements,” she said. “Visual enhancements are a great tool to get people more comfortable with experiencing contemporary music.”

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 1:00 PM
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