Principal Clarinet, Tammy Avery–Gibson

NEP’s Principal Clarinet Tammy Avery-Gibson, a 12-year veteran of the orchestra, recently sat down with section mate Yhasmin Valenzuela to talk about music, motherhood, and how the show must go on…gall bladder surgery and all!

YV: To start with, tell me about moving to Boston from Washington D.C. to accompany your fiancé, now husband, back to his hometown. Did you know then how Boston would become such a big part of your musical life?

TAG: Musically it was a big risk. It’s always hard to establish yourself in a new town, and in this town, with the confluence of so many incredible players and a knowledgeable audience base, it makes it all the more challenging. I feel like I’ve learned more by playing in Boston than I did in graduate school!

YV: Can you talk a little bit about what you do when you are not performing?

TAG: When I’m not performing with NEP or the chamber players, or with my kids (who actually love hanging out while I practice!) I am an extremity representative for Depuy Synthes. It’s a new sales force focused on foot/ankle and hand/wrist surgeries with orthopedists and podiatrists—my job is to help integrate new products. I’m in a different hospital every day, sometimes I’m training representatives on new products or meeting with an interested surgeon that has invited me to come to his department to talk about a product.

YV: Can you tell us how your family influenced your decision to take up an instrument? How did you choose the clarinet?

TAG: I had quite a musical family. My grandmother and her brothers and sisters played instruments, mostly piano, though one was lucky enough to obtain a violin during the depression.  They would take turns playing piano and singing at their church.

When I was 8 years old, my band teacher demonstrated the wind instruments. I was leaning toward the flute, but my father loved Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, so he said it would have to be the clarinet, and voilà!

YV: You studied under renowned clarinet teacher Sidney Forrest at Catholic University of America. How does that experience continue to influence you?

TAG: I have kept every bit of music and paper Sidney ever gave me— I still use those lesson books. Much of what he taught me, including tips on how to learn difficult passages, I still use, especially with the NEP. When I look through the music we covered, much of it was 20th century composers, which is where the NEP spends a great deal of time. I still go back to my etude books when I find my fingers getting lazy and re-read the exact same practice notes, and the advice holds up! Another lesson from those days —I never skip long tones, I practice them every time!

YV: As a mother of two children now, has studying and performing music helped you to be a better parent? Or has motherhood informed your study and performance of music?

TAG: Absolutely. On stage and in life you have to learn to deal with the fact that you’re not perfect, and if you make a mistake, you have to let that second pass by, learn from it and move forward or it will affect everything you do.

YV: You’re a full-time mom, career woman and musician, so I imagine running around is part of your everyday routine, but I hear you’re actually a serious runner. Could you tell me more?

TAG: I was a much better runner before having children, now I just try to keep up! Running keeps my lungs warmed up. My high school clarinet teacher was a former director of the Naval Academy Band so fitness was part of his daily life. He encouraged every student no matter their age to run, which I ignored until after college.  Once I got past being able to run a couple of miles in a row, I was off and running, pardon the pun!

YV: What are the five things you can’t live without?

TAG: My kids/family
My clarinets (I would grab them from the house if it were on fire)
My hairdresser—she knows way too much
My phone—my tuner, metronome, GPS, Apple Pay, and email are there
My running shoes—a major stress reliever!

YV: Let’s talk about your time as NEP’s principal clarinet. What has been your favorite piece or concert with the NEP?

TAG: My favorite was playing Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra this past fall. Our clarinet section played really well together, along with all the winds. That’s a tough piece, and we prepared well and performed with confidence.

YV: I recently heard a rumor that you put off gall bladder surgery for two days so you could perform Wozzeck. How did you survive?

TAG: When the NEP performed Wozzeck nearly 10 years ago, I was assigned the first E flat part. I was also scheduled for gall bladder surgery two days after the performance. It was very painful, and really affected my breath and support.  I spoke with a surgeon friend of mine who recommended that I go immediately to the emergency room to get admitted, so I asked the gentleman playing second E flat part if he could cover my part. That gentleman flat out said no. I explained the situation to my surgeon and wound up on antibiotics to keep my gall bladder from “going porcelain.” I played Wozzeck with a fever and had surgery the following Monday without telling anyone in the orchestra, including [NEP Music Director] Dick [Pittman] because I didn’t want them to worry. That was certainly challenging, but I was ready for those solos!

You can hear Tammy perform with the New England Philharmonic on April 29th at BU’s Tsai Performance Center.


Born in Oakland, just east of San Francisco, NEP violinist Tim Alexander moved to Boston a few months after the legendary storm of 1978. Our principal contrabassist Emily Koh sat down with him this week to chat about his life-changing experience at a David Oistrakh concert in Cleveland, what’s left on his bucket list, and his upcoming NEP milestone.


Violinist, Tim Alexander

EK: I have to ask, how did you feel watching the ’78 weather reports from your home in sunny California, thinking I’m moving there?

TA: To be honest, I wasn’t much focused on the snowy aspect of New England back then. Moving to Boston was a big career move for me at the time. I was in the customs brokerage business (import/export), newly licensed, and my company needed me to open a new office in Boston. I stayed in this line of work until 1986 and then pursued other interests. My career since then has mainly been helping manage community orchestras, including the NEP where I’ve done lots of grant writing, and also playing with many ensembles.

EK: You mentioned it was seeing the great Russian violinist David Oistrakh perform live in Cleveland when you were only five years old that prompted you to ask your mother for a violin. Can you still recall what about the evening inspired you?

TA:  Well, I was only five years old, I think, so it’s mostly that my parents noticed that I seemed inspired by his playing. Pretty soon after, I started taking violin lessons.

EK: Your 20-year anniversary performing with the NEP is approaching. What are some of your fondest NEP memories?

TA: Britten’s War Requiem at Boston’s Cathedral of Holy Cross in 2012 and in the cathedral in Providence, RI— those were two amazing performances in front of huge audiences. I would add Alban Berg’s Wozzeck a few years before that, performances of Nielsen’s Symphony no. 4, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Dutilleux’s Violin Concerto, and Gunther Schuller’s Cello Concerto as particularly memorable.

EK: From your perspective, how has the NEP changed over your tenure?

TA: The orchestra has attracted more really good players, some of whom have had long tenures with it. I find it particularly inspiring to have had Danielle Maddon as our concertmaster for all the time she has been with us.

EK: Let’s just say that for your 20-year anniversary, Maestro Pittman asks you, “Tim, what would you like to see the NEP perform?” What would make your list?

TA:  If I had to pick just one piece that the NEP has played before, it would be Gunther Schuller’s Cello Concerto (we performed it with Jan Muller-Szeraws in 2009). For something we’ve never done, Alban Berg’s Lulu or Henri Dutilleux’s Metaboles (or both, just not in the same concert).

EK: When you are not performing with the NEP, what are you up to?

TA: I am retired now and am truly getting the chance to do the things I love. Aside from the NEP, I also perform with the Brookline Symphony and Symphony Pro Musica. I play tennis and golf, and I have a home and garden I enjoy trying to maintain. I also inherited a huge library from my parents, which I’m trying to work my way through. I fashion myself as a pretty good cook and can follow a recipe. My significant other and I have made Thanksgiving turkey, with all the trimmings, every year for the last 10 years, and my favorites to make are ratatouille (Mom’s recipe) and apple pie. Bucket list items include more writing, translating (French), and editing.

EK: Finally, we’ve got NEP’s first concert of the 40th anniversary season coming up on October 29 at the Tsai Performance Center. What piece are you most looking forward to performing?

TA: That’s a difficult choice. I’ve always loved Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, but Ruggles’s Evocations is really beautiful, and I think Yehudi Wyner’s Piano Concerto deserves more than one hearing – especially now that I’ve heard it once with our piano soloist.


Meet George Muller – Principal Bassoonist for the NEP

November 3, 2016

For over three decades, bassoonist George Muller has performed with orchestras all over the globe—and he’s got the tales to prove it. George sat down with NEP’s board president Ann Teixeira to talk about his musical journey from Germany to his new life as a down easter, scary sight-readings, and the art of beekeeping. AT: […]

Read the full article →

Meet Sam Schmetterer – Principal Percussionist for the NEP

October 5, 2016

Born in Chicago and current resident of Quincy, Sam Schmetterer is the NEP’s principal percussionist, and has played with the orchestra since 2010. Our violinist and board member Charles Lin sat down with him this week to chat about Radiohead, Iceland, and his fondness for his didgeridoo. CL: How did your musical journey begin, let […]

Read the full article →