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
American pianist John Wilson has established himself as an artist who is both refined in style, and also a “marvelous musical mad scientist” (Music Critics Association of North America).
With a repertoire ranging from the Baroque to the Contemporary, John has performed extensively in North America, in recital halls such as Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall (San Francisco), Weill Recital Hall, Merkin Hall (New York), New World Symphony Center (Miami). John played piano on the San Francisco Symphony’s 2021 Grammy-winning recording of Michael Tilson Thomas “Meditations on Rilke”, winning “Best Classical Compendium.”
As soloist he has performed with the San Francisco Symphony, New World Symphony, the New Amsterdam Symphony and Orchestra Camerata Notturna in New York City. He most recently won 1st prize in the 2019 International Respighi Competition, which resulted in an invitation to perform as soloist with The Chamber Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall; other prizes include 1st place in the American Prize Foundation 2019 Competition, and “Best Performance of an American Work” at the 2017 Liszt-Garrison International Piano Competition.
A sought-after collaborator for the world’s most prolific composers, Wilson has had the pleasure of being a part of numerous world premieres, performing on the U.S and World premieres of solo piano works by Michael Tilson Thomas, duo works by Timo Andres and Judith Lang Zaimont, and ensemble-orchestral works by John Adams, Steve Reich, Reinbert de Leeuw, HK Gruber, and Bernd Deutsch.
A devoted chamber musician and collaborator, he has appeared in chamber ensembles with musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, San Diego Symphony, and Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. Wilson has performed in duo recitals with violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Johannes Moser, violinist Anthony Marwood and and in jazz trio with soprano Audra McDonald. Wilson was trained at the Peabody Conservatory, where he received his B.M., M.M., and Performance Diploma. He is a regular keyboardist for the San Francisco Symphony, where he served as pianist for their 2018 tour Petrushka performances, and 2020 tour on piano, celesta, and synthesizer (cancelled due to Covid-19), and is a regular keyboardist for San Diego Symphony.
John has recorded for Naxos USA, MSR Classics, SFS Media Label, and performances can be heard on Medici.tv and WQXR. Wilson’s debut solo CD, “Upon Further Reflection” will be released May 2022 on the Avie Label, featuring the world premiere of new solo piano works by Michael Tilson Thomas.