Mary Lee Taylor Kinosian, the concertmaster of the South Carolina Philharmonic, was caught red-handed doing something that a lot of her colleagues don’t: she was getting her nails painted.
“I know that seems ridiculous. Not a lot of violinists do it,” Kinosian said as she sat in a nail salon. “Some of my colleagues, they might get manicures, but not necessarily polish.”
Kinosian, who is entering her sixth season as the Phil’s concertmaster, is excited about the upcoming year, the Phil’s 49th as an orchestra. So why not have freshly polished nails? She is a violinist, after all. The players began rehearsing Tuesday for Friday’s season debut.
“I’m always excited about the start of the new season,” she said. “The summertime doesn’t have that many playing opportunities. It’s nice to know I’m going to start seeing my friends regularly.”
The concertmaster, by general definition, is the top violinist in an orchestra, a player who sits near the conductor during concerts. A concertmaster is an orchestra’s consigliere, if you will, a conduit between the players and Morihiko Nakahara, the Phil’s conductor. This summer, Kinosian has been “putting in the bowing” for pieces, which is to say she’s notating the parts that need to be played with an upbow or down-bow.
During performances, not only does Kinosian have to monitor the violins, she also has to be aware of what other sections are doing. If someone is late, it’s Kinosian who has to get them back on pace.
“Immediately, I will try to first make sure they know where we are,” said Kinosian, who uses body language to get players’ attention. “I’m almost in the business of reading (Nakahara’s) mind. If I sense somebody’s attention has gotten away from what we’re trying to do, I just try to reinforce where we are.
“I’m just trying to coordinate all that and make sure it’s going well.”
Kinosian, who has also been the assistant concertmaster of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra for 11 years, was a member of the Phil when she was 14. Her parents were influential in forming a professional orchestra in the city, as they both played in the Phil when it was known as the Columbia Symphony and Columbia Philharmonic. Her father, Alan Taylor, was a principal cellist, and her mother, Mary Alcorn Taylor (oldest daughter of Maurice Alcorn, for whom Alcorn Middle School is named), played viola. The family ran Alan Taylor Music Co., a former music store in the city.
Kinosian, 51, has four children and two – Jessie, 15, and Cristina, 12 – are aspiring violinists. (Kinosian, who is married to Paul Kinosian, has two older children – Michael, 24, and Catherine, 22.)
“They’re going to be part of whatever dynasty we have going on here,” Kinosian said. “It really is something.”
In the late ’90s, Kinosian moved to Nashville to play principal second violin in the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. She played with NSO for almost five years before returning to Columbia. When the Phil’s former concertmaster Eric Chu decided to pursue conducting, Kinosian won his chair.
Her history with the Phil is rich, but Kinosian said this is an exciting time for the orchestra.
“It’s an important time to set some bars of what we want to achieve in the future,” she said.
One of the orchestra’s recent achievements was the performance a handful of members, including Kinosian, put on during “Cinemovements,” the Phil’s collaboration with The Indie Grits Festival. The festival commissioned four short films to be paired with music selected by Nakahara. Members of the Phil performed as the films were screened. It was a challenging and rewarding production – for the players, too.
“That was pretty interesting,” Kinosian said. “It was new music. Some of it was quite difficult. I found myself wishing I could see more of the screen. It would have been risky in the extreme other than to pay dead attention to what I was doing.”
When Taylor is not working with the Phil, she composes and plays chamber music in the Upton trio with pianist Billy Shepherd and cellist Dusan Vukajlovic. She also teaches out of her home studio.
“I try to advise them how to practice wisely,” she said of her students. “And not just going over and over on something, but to isolate the points that need attention.”
That’s not all, because performing is more than perfecting notes on a page.
“You have to have fun with your music,” Kinosian continued. “You have to have part of yourself in the music. It’s just dry as a desert if you’re just playing notes on paper. It’s got to have this life, energy to it.”
One more: A French manicure with a design on the thumbs won’t help your playing, but it will make you look stylish.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.