Symphony Spotlight: Douglas Rioth and Nadia Ressoa

By Phillips, Julie Smith | American Harp Journal, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Symphony Spotlight: Douglas Rioth and Nadia Ressoa


Phillips, Julie Smith, American Harp Journal


IN this edition of the Symphony Spotlight Series we get to know one of the great symphonic harpists of our time, Douglas Rioth, and also branch out to learn about the life and career of a United States Army Band harpist, Nadia Pessoa. From opposite sides of our country, both of these players demonstrate a vast range of responsibilities that they have as well as the perks included with their unique positions.

Douglas Rioth, San Francisco Symphony

"My official title is principal harp of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and I have held this position since September 1981. Previous to that I was the principal harpist of the Indianapolis Symphony for six seasons (1975-1981) and before that I was a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music studying with Alice Chalifoux. I started the harp at the Interlochen Arts Academy with Elisa Smith Dickson when I was a junior in high school. I was born in Marceline, Missouri, and still consider Missouri my home, but I've also called San Francisco home for a long time now.

"The San Francisco Symphony traditionally plays four or five concerts a week, and we generally have four rehearsals a week. However, lately our schedule has been changing somewhat: we often have three or four performances of a classical concert and then an extra added "concert" of a movie with live music (in place of the soundtrack) or a concert that is rather unique--sometimes popular as opposed to classical. We also now have a new series called Sound Box, held in an adjoining building to Davies Symphony Hall, which is very popular with the younger audience. The opening concert happened to feature the Ravel Introduction and Allegro! The room has a bar and comfortable seating, and it's very dark. There are video projections and several stages. In its first year it has proved very, very popular, selling out each concert as it appeals to people that like to be entertained visually as well as through their ears. Michael Tilson Thomas, our music director, is a firm believer in presenting music in new and unique ways. This has helped keep the San Francisco Symphony in a much better economic state than many other orchestras.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"When I play a concert, I like to arrive an hour and a half before the concert begins. The reason for such an early arrival is that prior to our concerts, beginning one hour before the concert and ending thirty minutes before the concert begins, there is a lecture on stage. This requires using a Peterson Electronic Strobe tuner since I am not able to tune by ear on stage. Many years ago when I first started in the Indianapolis Symphony I tuned by ear. It was very stressful and very difficult, and I was usually out of tune, so I gave up on that. Now I am generally in tune and have less stress. I also feel it is very important to always tune in the same space that you will be playing in, so I always tune onstage.

"The San Francisco Symphony travels yearly and sometimes goes on tour twice a year. Most years we travel to the East Coast. We also travel to Europe and Asia quite regularly. I love touring as it gives me a chance to see the world that I wouldn't see, since I rarely go on a vacation. I also enjoy the company of my fellow musicians when we are on tour.

"The San Francisco Symphony owns one harp, and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra owns two harps. I most often prefer to use my own harp in the orchestra; however, I do use the symphony harp quite regularly and occasionally I use one of the youth orchestra harps. Speaking of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, I have been the harp coach since it was founded in 1981. Every Saturday afternoon I meet with the harpist. We have sectionals for an hour and a half before their orchestra rehearsal. When possible, I sit with the harpists in rehearsal and teach them how to count by tapping on their shoulders and counting out loud in their ears. This is especially important when they are new to the orchestra. …

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