A symphony orchestra is made up of highly-educated, musically-gifted men and women who perform under pressure before live audiences. Since there are only 90 large symphonies in America, those who play in orchestras like the Louisiana Philharmonic are clearly the best of the best. In this, the second installment of a 3-part series on the LPO, meet one member of the orchestra who is a good example of what it takes to be in that number.
NEW ORLEANS -- The sound of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is very much a team effort, brought together by 67 extremely talented individuals. Each has a story.
But it is perhaps French horn player Mollie Pate who personifies a common aspect of all the musicians: the competitor.
The same drive to become a top musician is perhaps the same drive that led Pate to become a triathlete. Four years ago she set the goal to go to the world competition in Australia. Last year she made it, coming in 12th.
Her discipline, commitment and focus have made her stronger and faster as an athlete and more professional as a musician and a leader.
She has practiced not for hours or days, but months, for a solo with the LPO, her fourth in 15 years and the toughest: Richard Strauss’ second horn concerto.
“It’s hard to play and hard to make sense of it, so it’s a good challenge for me,” she said recently, admitting she would be nervous.
“I'm debating whether to go barefoot or not, because the last time I wore heels and was shaking so much under my dress.”
She got her music degree in Texas and her master's degree at the New England Conservatory, then went for her first audition with the Syracuse symphony. It didn't go well.
“I totally bombed out,” she said. “I was horrible, bawled my eyes out. I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Later she was playing in a music festival in Colorado when two LPO musicians heard her and told her to audition for an opening in New Orleans. This time she auditioned and won.
“It’s just so hard to win an audition. It is just so competitive," Pate said. "The standards for musicians have gone way up. We are just so blessed in New Orleans to have the musicians we have.”
Pate had just bought her first home five months before Hurricane Katrina. She lost everything, but like so many of the LPO musicians, she returned here because she said this is where she belongs.
Pate was just 23 years old when she joined the LPO as principal horn player, the leader of the brass section. Now, 15 years later, she has performed all over this country and Europe and has honed her leadership skills, serving once as president of the LPO's musician-run board and now working with the new young professionals group, Prelude.
She is determined to bring classical music to the next generation.
“You think people just want to go home and play video games, but I think people are tired of that and I think people want to get involved culturally in the city. I think the Louisiana Philharmonic provides a great outlet for that,” Pate said.
She balances her musical life with her athletic one, constantly setting goals. She learned the cross fit system of training and now she and her business partner, Jeff Germond, have opened the first cross fit gym in New Orleans, teaching the 50 skills of the fitness program.
“I'm going to be 40,” Pate said. “My goal is to go to the games in July for the national championship.”
But before then, she must accomplish her musical goal: her 20-minute solo performance of Strauss’ second horn concerto, which on a recent night, surrounded by her fellow musicians, she accomplished.
Friday at 6 p.m. on Channel 4, Angela Hill meets an extraordinary couple who were instrumental in the rebirth of the LPO and who contribute more than their musical talent to our community.