Spotlight on... Ralph Skiano
Fanfare Cincinnati: Tell us about your background and how you came to the CSO.
Ralph Skiano: I grew up in Alexandria, VA and started the clarinet in the 5th grade in my public school band. After finding a wonderful private teacher and studying with her for a number of years, I was accepted into the American Youth Philharmonic in Washington, DC. That was where I really fell in love with the symphony orchestra and decided it was what I wanted to do! I actually attended CCM for my undergraduate degree and studied with the former Principal Clarinet of the Cincinnati Symphony, Richie Hawley. After that, I won my very first professional audition and became the Principal Clarinetist of the Richmond Symphony. Many years and many, many auditions later, I won a position as Principal Clarinetist of the Detroit Symphony, and then a few years after that, Principal Clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony.
FC: What are your impressions of Cincinnati so far?
RS: I am dumbfounded by the re-birth of the city since my undergraduate years at CCM! I decided to move downtown to really enjoy the energy the city provides, and it’s been a lot of fun so far. I never imagined Cincinnati would look and feel like this!
FC: What are some of your hobbies outside of music?
RS: If I have some time on my hands and can find water and a boat, I LOVE to fish. I’m not saying I’m any good at it, but just being on or near the water is my favorite place to be. I have also enjoyed some historic renovation projects, which is why this renovation of Music Hall is especially exciting!
FC: Do you have a composer or piece of music that you can’t live without?
RS: At different times in life, music from different composers speaks diff erently to me. As I get older, the music that moved me once can feel less powerful, while the music that left me cold might speak in new ways to me. It feels like that with great art, I think. Great music is complex and nuanced and always feels relevant in some way to me.
FC: Who has been your biggest musical influence?
RS: My first teacher, Marguerite Baker, was a great influence on my love of music. She always spoke of the role of the musician in the world as bringing beauty and life to people…. Similarly, my time with Richie Hawley was equally inspiring. He taught me to explore expression and color and encouraged me to think creatively and try to bring that creativity to my playing!
FC: Almost as soon as your appointment as Principal Clarinet wasannounced, you were on tour to Europe with the CSO. What are some of your impressions or highlights from that tour?
RS: It was quite an experience! The orchestra played so well and was so welcoming to me during a tour that could be very stressful for everyone. I was really inspired by the dedication of the CSO to the quality of what they were doing…. The highlight for me was playing at the Proms...a really exciting and unique experience with a crowd of over 6,000 in the audience!
FC: Is there an advantage to being part of an Orchestra that performs not only classical, but also Pops, choral (May Festival), opera and ballet?
RS: I know from experience that playing the same repertoire in the same setting year after year can have a bit of a dulling effect on my mind. I can imagine that having a bit of variety will require a certain flexibility and alertness that can only help creativity and expression overall. I think the key is to treat each type of performance with the same level of care and attention and to remember that music is music, and it always has the ability to touch people’s hearts, if we do our job right.
FC: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
RS: Practice a lot, practice slowly, and find a teacher sooner rather than later who can point you in the right direction for success. Listen to live music whenever you can. Turn setbacks into learning opportunities. Even the most accomplished and successful performers are told “no” far more often than they are told “yes.” In general, strive to be the most prepared person in any situation.
FC: The CSO’s mission is “to seek and share inspiration.” Where do you seek and find inspiration, musically and otherwise?
RS: I think inspiration is all around us. It’s in artwork, it’s in dance, it’s in great literature, it’s in nature, and it’s in the relationships in our lives. These are the places I look. For me, it has always been a difficult balance between the head and the heart. It’s easy for me to find inspiration for my mind in books and lectures and conversation. It’s much harder for me to be still and to listen to the subtle inner voice, or to let myself go in happiness or excitement….