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On the Job Leading the Detroit Symphony

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now we're going to look, and listen to one workplace where success depends on performance. In this case, musical performance. NPR's Jordana Hochman recently visited the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and met two violinists; the oldest and the youngest musicians in the group. She has this report.

JORDANA HOCHMAN reporting:

Felix Resnick and Gina DiBello both sit in the second violin section. They're about to take a short break after a morning of rehearsal. DiBello is the youngest member, at 23, with dark curly hair and a pierced nose.

Ms. GINA DIBELLO (Detroit Symphony Orchestra): You know, there are some people in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties; there's really no limit in this orchestra.

HOCHMAN: Resnick also started out in his twenties.

Mr. FELIX RESNICK (Detroit Symphony Orchestra): My contract read 1942, my first concert was 1943.

HOCHMAN: He's now 89 years old, neatly dressed in a suit jacket and turtleneck. Resnick has performed for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for his entire career.

Thomas Wilkins works with both musicians as the Orchestra's resident conductor. He has a different approach to each violinist.

Mr. THOMAS WILKINS (Resident Conductor, Detroit Symphony Orchestra): When you look into Gina's eyes, you're sort of giving her something different than what you're giving Felix. I mean, Felix knows me so well because I've been here for seven years, and he's seen me. And he, like so many of the members of the orchestra, know every gesture in my body, what it means. Gina is just learning that language, and so when I look at her, it's with a little more intent than with Felix.

HOCHMAN: Wilkins says any orchestra needs a balance of Gina's and Felix's. Older players work efficiently because they know the repertoire so well. Young players like Gina DiBello bring new life.

Ms. DIBELLO: I like to feel an energy when I'm playing. I don't like to play and not feel energy. You know, maybe that does have to do with the fact that I'm young and just starting out in the orchestra and I haven't played these pieces like a million times, and stuff.

HOCHMAN: DiBello's eyes open wide with excitement when she talks. It's the kind of exuberance that Wilkins appreciates from young players. Resnick, on the other hand, has the wisdom of someone who's played under many great conductors. At this point in his career, he knows how to follow orders.

Mr. RESNICK: An orchestra is not a democracy. When the conductor has certain interpretations of music, you certainly do it the way he wants it. In fact, music is marked that way, bowings are marked, and dynamics, and phrasing, and that really depends on who is doing that music.

HOCHMAN: At the evening performance, Resnick and DiBello turn their attention to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. The oldest and youngest members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra share a music stand for the first time.

Jordana Hochman, NPR News. (Soundbite “Adagio for Strings”)

MONTAGNE: For NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.