A private donor recently gave a $15,000 grant to a CSUN music student to record a concert composition for brass and orchestra with the Russian Philharmonic in Moscow.
Stephen Limbaugh, a senior music composition major at CSUN who recently transferred from the University of Missouri Music Conservatory, generally plays the piano and the trumpet, but said the instruments he usually plays will not be used at the concerto recording.
“The Russian Philharmonic are the actual performers, and I’ll just be in the studio the whole time recording,” Limbaugh said.
He said he started playing the piano in the sixth grade, and he learned how to play the trumpet one year later. His musical background can be traced back to an early age when he decided to join his middle school band and a jazz band in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
“I then continued to play in conservatory music,” Limbaugh said.
According to Liviu Marinescu, music composition and theory professor in the Music Department at CSUN, Limbaugh is a rare talent.
“A performance with a major orchestra is a very rare opportunity for any composer, young or accomplished,” Marinescu said. “Since my arrival at CSUN in 2002, none of our students (have) achieved anything similar.”
The actual recording will be held on Dec. 4 and Limbaugh will return to the United States Dec. 7.
“I will be flying back Dec. 7 and will probably get (to Los Angeles) at 8 p.m.,” he said. “And then I will be going to my band’s showing at the Hard Rock Cafe, which starts at 11 p.m.”
Limbaugh is in a band called Vintage, composed of five members.
“(The Hard Rock show) was a talent search thing, and we got in,” he said.
Ben Carter, a long time friend of Limbaugh’s and the lead singer of the band, said their band is a collective endeavor between band members. According to Carter, the band is fortunate to be chosen to perform at the popular L.A. venue. The group was initially a partnership between Carter and Limbaugh called BCSL, which stood for Ben Carter and Steven Limbaugh’s names.
Later on, the band developed into a five-member collaborative effort.
“Before Vintage, Stephen and I would get together under that name (BCSL), just recording and writing,” Carter said.
Carter said Limbaugh and him practically grew up together, but at one point separated and were recently reunited.
“We met in seventh grade and went to the same high school together, but went our own separate ways for college – I went to CSUN and graduated June 2005,” Carter said. “He went to a prestigious conservatory and I was ready to get back to music.”
Carter said that despite the distance between the two men, they were able to stay in touch by communicating back and forth through e-mail and telephone calls.
“He would visit me sometimes in L.A., and that’s really why he’s here now – because of the band and his project in Moscow,” Carter said.
Both men have worked together on music projects since high school, and their partnership is still ongoing today. Carter graduated, while Limbaugh dropped out of high school and pursued his career in music. Limbaugh eventually completed his GED.
“He was just a hell raiser in high school and would skip classes,” Carter said.
Despite Limbaugh’s earlier years, he has grown a lot and done much for himself, he said.
Carter said the main reason Limbaugh received the grant money was due to the classical nature of his pieces. Then, he started to research ways for one of his pieces to be recorded.
“He’s very epic and dynamic. He writes for the violin, the cello – everybody’s parts,” he said. “That’s what sets him apart (from other music composers).”
Carter said Limbaugh looked at Prague, Hungary and Russia as options, and settled on Russia because its organizers were able to put together more for him at a low opportunity cost.
Limbaugh said his real reason for choosing the Russian Philharmonic in Moscow over one here in Los Angeles is because it was cheaper, in fact one of the cheapest.
“American orchestras are really too expensive, so I chose Russia and because it was as good, or better, than the ones here,” he said.
The Russian Philharmonic is one of the best orchestras in Eastern Europe, according to Marinescu.
“Stephen will have an incredibly intense and rewarding visit with them,” he said.
Moscow is known for having some of the most expert musicians in the world, and that is exactly where Marinescu wants his students to be, he said.
“I met Stephen two years ago while he was a student at the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory of Music, a school that has a very prestigious music program,” Marinescu said. “He came to my office with some of his scores and recordings, and after discussing his music and career goals he decided that our music program and my teaching philosophy would provide the type of education and personal growth that he was looking for.”
Limbaugh said his choice for moving to CSUN as opposed to another CSU was primarily Marinescu. He said even before he decided to transfer here, Marinescu was already giving him private lessons.
Limbaugh admitted that Marinescu helped him focus and encouraged him to learn more about his craft.
After Limbaugh completed his composition, Marinescu contacted various conductors across the country in the effort to secure a recording and performance, he said.
Through the search and negotiation process, a distinguished donor who wished to remain anonymous was impressed with Stephen’s composition and sped up the process by sealing a recording session deal with an orchestra outside the country, Marinescu said.
Marinescu said his brother Ovidiu was able to aid in that by having him contact the director of the Russian Philharmonic, whom Ovidiu performed and recorded with in the past. The Russians liked the piece, he said, and agreed to record with Limbaugh.
“The reason I’m even going to Russia is because his brother is the actual conductor and he was able to get me in,” Limbaugh said.
He also described the benefits of recording with the Russian Philharmonic.
“It’s really the learning experience,” he said. “Really, not many undergraduates get this opportunity and this large of a grant.”
Limbaugh emphasized the importance of being able to work with a professional orchestra and the difference it makes. He said that after the recording, he will engage in talks with a classical music label.
“Stephen has an introspective personality, focused on hard work and self exploration,” Marinescu said. “While some of my students spend their lunch time in the courtyard, Stephen writes music and plans his next project.”
Carter said Limbaugh is fortunate and at the same time one-of-a-kind, Carter said.
“He is very diligent and possibly the most music-oriented person I’ve ever met,” he said.
Jelly Mae Jadraque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.