When the San Antonio Symphony was deciding what would be the perfect piece of music to share with school children for an upcoming Young People's Concert, Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, with its picturesque melodies, was a natural choice. And when they went looking for piano soloists, the orchestra chose two players not much older than the audience they’d be performing for, Rhiannon Bishop and Helen Nebeker, both high school students, and accomplished pianists.
“This is something that 7-year-old me would be really excited about,” said Helen Nebeker. “I really liked all the different sounds, and animals.”
Nebeker and Bishop have known each other for several years as fellow students at Musical Arts Center of San Antonio. Formerly competitors, they’re working together for this duo piece.
“We get along really well together,” says Bishop. “I think that definitely we were a perfect fit.”
The two students have been working for months on perfecting the dynamics and intricate details of the music, but things change once you’re in a big space like the Tobin Center. At a rehearsal on Tuesday morning, both conductor Akiko Fujimoto and their instructor, Kenneth Thompson, kept telling them to play louder.
“All [that training] has to be not thrown away, but just put on the back burner, to project… and not be drowned out by the orchestra,” explains Nebeker.
Even though that Tuesday morning rehearsal was the only chance they have to get it right with the orchestra before next week’s performances, both Bishop and Nebeker say their training has prepared them. It can still be stressful, but … could it possibly be dangerous, as well? Rhiannon Bishop holds up a bandaged finger, explaining she ripped the skin off doing a glissando.
Suffering for their art aside, both Bishop and Nebeker have post-graduation plans already. Bishop says she’d like to be teaching at a university or conservatory in the future, and Nebeker will double-major in music and filmmaking.
Both of them will continue to inspire young players and classical music fans at the San Antonio Symphony’s Young People’s Concert Series.
Watch the video above, edited by TPR Intern Lennon Maldonado, to see and hear Rhiannon Bishop and Helen Nebeker.