Tyler Mack, Principal Timpanist
Season Chair Sponsor: The Hughes Family
Interview by Lily O’Brien
Oakland native Tyler Mack has always been fascinated by the sound of a symphony orchestra. He says the experience was riveting for him as a child when he attended youth concerts. His parents originally started him on piano and he later tried the cello. Eventually, he settled on percussion — specifically timpani — pitched percussion instruments also known as kettledrums. A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he plays with a variety of orchestras, including the Oakland Symphony and the Mendocino Orchestra, and has been the Principal Timpanist with the Marin Symphony since 1984.
Why did you choose percussion?
The number and variety of percussion instruments are endless, as are the techniques of playing them. I recently played a piece in which I had to pop balloons.
What attracted you to play timpani?
I wanted to play something where both hands were doing the same thing, instead of having one hand doing the bow, and the other hand doing the fingers. That led me to study the drums.
What makes a good timpanist?
I think what makes a good timpanist is being really in tune with what’s happening around you — just an appropriate amount of sound to realize the musical gestures. You get to make choices about the amount of sound that you want to create — whether you want to play quietly or very forcefully. You don’t want to stick out and you don’t want to underplay and get lost.
What inspired you to choose music as your career?
I have eternal gratitude for my teachers — Barry Jekowsky, Peggy Lucchesi, and Jack Van Geem. They served as tremendous role models and continue to represent the pinnacle of the profession.
What do you like about playing with the Marin Symphony?
The refinement and consistency with which the orchestra plays has never been greater than under Maestro Neale’s leadership, and the orchestra has always boasted fine musicians in the various principal chairs. Additionally, our audiences are supremely appreciative, and we have an active and engaged board of directors to support us.
Do you have a favorite composer?
I really like the early Romantic composers — Beethoven, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. But it’s all fun, from Baroque to 21st Century.
What do you do in your spare time?
I manage the 30-unit building apartment building that I live in, in San Francisco, so I divide my symphonic life with that of a property manager. I’ve been doing that for over 20 years. It’s a 100-year-old building, and while things do go wrong, these days, it’s pretty low maintenance, because we have fixed so many things over the years.
Do you have any interesting hobbies?
One thing I do is to maintain my own timpani mallets. When the fabric on the heads of each pair wears out, I cut and sew replacements. It took me a long time to learn how to do that, and it was a very demanding learning experience, but it was really worthwhile because of how I can customize my sound.
If you could have chosen another career, what would it have been and why?
I’m interested in law, and I think that I could have had some kind of place in the legal profession. It is similar to music in that there is a doctrine of study that leads to the interpretation of material.
What kind of music do you listen to in your off time?
Everything from Sun Ra to sea shanties. My playlist is all over the globe.
What are your goals during a performance?
Accuracy is such a pivotal component of artistry. I try to challenge myself to give performances that are faithful to the score and composer. The propulsion with which I play corresponds to the conductor’s gestures. When I am looking at the conductor, I am trying to make his gestures audible through my placement of rhythms.
If your timpani could talk, what would they say?
My drums would be far too relaxed to talk, having been the recipients of decades of massage.
John Wilson, Principal Pianist
“He brings a wide spectrum of touch and dynamics to the three quasi improvisatory tableaux of Michael Tilson Thomas, which lend their collective title – Upon Further Reflection – to the album. … appealing gravity and circumspection” – Gramophone
“another of the year’s excellent piano albums … celebrates both [Michael Tilson Thomas] and his influences” – The Arts Fuse, reviewing the world premiere of Michael Tilson Thomas Piano Suite “Upon Further Reflection”
In 2019, John premiered a portion of Upon Further Reflection that was broadcast live on Medici.TV to an audience of over 50,000. Later in 2022 John released his solo debut album on Avie Records, which featured the premiere of MTT’s three-movement suite for piano, Upon Further Reflection.
A “marvelous musical mad scientist” (Music Critics Association of North America) with a repertoire ranging from the Baroque to the Contemporary, American pianist John Wilson has performed extensively in North America, with highlights including his recent solo debut at Lincoln Center, and at Carnegie Hall with the Chamber Orchestra of New York playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, “Jenamy”, and at the San Francisco Symphony, playing solo works by Debussy and the Martinu Double Concerto for Piano, Strings and Timpani. His playing was described by the San Francisco Classical Voice as “having all the beauty and delicacy one would expect from Debussy”.
Wilson has had the pleasure of being a part of numerous world premieres, performing including those by Michael Tilson Thomas, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Timo Andres, Judith Lang Zaimont, Steve Reich and many others.
As a soloist he has performed with the San Francisco Symphony, Chamber Orchestra of New York, New World Symphony, Classical Music Institute Orchestra of San Antonio, Napa Valley Symphony Orchestra, and both the New Amsterdam Symphony and Orchestra Camerata Notturna in New York, NY. He most recently won 1st prize in the 2019 International Respighi Prize Competition.
He recently performed on the 2023 European tour with the San Francisco Symphony performing chamber and orchestral works under Esa-Pekka Salonen. A devoted chamber musician and collaborator, he has appeared in chamber ensembles with musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and, and has appeared in recital with violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Johannes Moser, violinist Anthony Marwood and sopranos Audra McDonald and Bernadette Peters.
John has recorded for Avie Records, Affetto, MSR Classics, and performances can be heard on BBC 3 Radio, Medici.tv and WQXR. Future recordings to be released are another solo album featuring works and transcriptions of Rachmaninoff and Gershwin, on Avie Records, Brahms and Schubert ensemble works on Delos Productions, and the complete works for flute and harpsichord by J.S Bach on Affetto Records. He is s Principal Keyboard of the Marin Symphony, performed as guest Principal Keyboard with the Chicago Symphony, and keyboardist with the San Francisco Symphony and San Diego Symphony.