November 19, 2019
An Interview with Greg Milliren
Minnesota Orchestra member since: 2009
Position/section: Associate Principal Flute
Hometown: Delafield, WI
Education: University of Minnesota, University of Southern California
Did you grow up in a musical family?
None of my family were professional musicians and, although we had a few classical recordings around the house, I mainly remember my parents listening to oldies albums and A Prairie Home Companion on NPR. Our schools had strong music programs, however, and I fell in love with orchestral music when my high school band performed an arrangement of the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, which prompted me to seek out a recording of the entire work. I was blown away by the huge range of expressive content and the innate physicality present in Tchaikovsky’s music. This, in turn, led me to seek out more of his music as well as the music of other great composers. I joined the Milwaukee Youth Symphony that year and loved being in the middle of the amazing sound of an orchestra and being part of something that was greater than the sum of its parts.
What is currently on your music stand?
Music for this week and next week as well as many flute technique exercises that I run through regularly to stay in shape
What piece of music have you never played but would really love to perform?
I love very colorful orchestral music. Some of the pieces I like that don't appear often on concert programs, and which I have yet to perform: Kodály's Háry János Suite, Messaien's Turangalila-Symphonie, Respighi's Roman Festivals, Nielsen's Aladdin Suite, Prokofiev's Tale of the Buffoon Suite, Lili Boulanger's Faust et Helene, Dukas's La Peri and Symphony in C. This season we will be performing one of my very favorite symphonies, Mahler's 9th, in which the composer depicts his own heart arrhythmia, heart attack and death. Although that is quite the macabre image, the music is powerful, transcendent and ultimately at peace with itself. I'm looking forward to playing it for the first time.
What is special to you about playing in a chamber music setting?
When composers write chamber music they are often speaking on a more heartfelt level, and this along with the cozier performance setting makes these concerts a more personal experience than the grand orchestral statement for both the performer and the listener.
What inspires you as you perform in an orchestra?
Instrumental music, lacking words, physical substance, and being ephemeral in nature, is the most abstract of the arts. Yet it is this abstract nature that gives this music its power and its ability to evoke any emotion. Music reveals to us entirely different dimensions and becomes a healing and creative conduit for our hearts and minds. This means as musical artists we must think deeply about how we will communicate all this information using only the sound of our instruments and time. I love the creativity that my colleagues bring to that task and I am inspired on a regular basis by hearing beautifully crafted and shaped melodic lines from every instrument around the orchestra.
If you could share one fun fact or special tip to someone attending a Minnesota Orchestra concert, what would you say?
I always like to say that you don't need to “know something” about the music or the rituals of the concert hall to feel like this music is “your music.” Indeed, the Minnesota Orchestra and the legacy of music left to us from composers past and present is a cultural asset that belongs to everyone. No one “owns” Mozart or Mahler - they belong to all of us. Great music is truly timeless, and the meaning composers write into their music speaks to us across time relevantly and purposefully today. That being said, most of what we present on stage is long-form compared to popular music and therefore will speak to you much more clearly upon repeated hearings. If any of the pieces on today's program are new to you, I'd encourage you to seek out recordings and listen to them several times.
Tell us about one of your favorite musical memories or proudest moments?
There are so many good memories, but mostly I love all the wonderful people I have met since joining the Minnesota Orchestra, including audience members, staff and board members. Attaining a position in a major orchestra is a difficult task and there was a time where I had nearly given up expecting to achieve such a position. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to make a living performing great music in a wonderfully supportive community.
What is your favorite Minnesota food/drink or activity?
The Twin Cities has such a vibrant food and drink scene these days. I love doing trivia nights at many of the local craft breweries and distilleries where you can also find a tasty new food truck while testing your knowledge of 1970s sitcoms and famous cartoon cats.
Do you have any special holiday traditions?
In my family, we enjoy Southern Comfort Manhattans at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. Two parts Southern Comfort, one part dry vermouth, just one drop of angostura bitters (more than one will unbalance the flavor), mix and serve with a cocktail cherry. My husband Dan and I also host a holiday party and sing-along every December for our family and friends.
What else should our audiences know about you (any news, hobbies, etc.)?
I love decorating the house for Halloween and Christmas, my favorite Disney movie is Sleeping Beauty (music by Tchaikovsky!), I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy novels, and I'm obsessed with the #pitbullsofinstagram feed on Instagram.