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Trio takes long, winding road to principal positions with Sarasota Orchestra

They've spent much of their lives mastering their instruments. But Gianluca Farina, Marcelina Suchocka and Hannah Cope have arrived as principal players.


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Sometimes, the final hurdle to success in life is convincing yourself that you’re ready.

Gianluca Farina had climbed all the traditional ladders of the musical world, achieving not just a masters degree but also an artist diploma in trumpet performance. Farina, 29 years old, has sat in with the Boston Pops and spent three years as a fellow at the New World Symphony in Miami.

New York native Gianluca Farina is Sarasota Orchestra's new principal trumpet player. (Photo by Harry Sayer)
New York native Gianluca Farina is Sarasota Orchestra's new principal trumpet player. (Photo by Harry Sayer)

But still he found himself getting nervous for auditions.

And then something clicked.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” says Farina, recently hired as Sarasota Orchestra’s principal trumpet player. “I've taken plenty of auditions before this one and I didn't have a lot of success. I had a few that I advanced, but I'd always get very nervous. And then our last concert at New World, I played principal trumpet on Mahler's Fifth Symphony. That gave me a huge confidence boost. That finally taught me to just let go and play.”

Farina is one of six new full-fledged members of the Sarasota Orchestra, and three of them recently sat down with the Observer ahead of the Masterworks “Symphonie Fantastique” program.

The other two new principals — harpist Hannah Cope and percussionist Marcelina Suchocka — told a similar story of building experience and belief in themselves along the way. Suchocka, in fact, was a colleague of Farina’s at the New World Symphony, and she was right there when he had his big moment playing Mahler. 

“He was amazing,” she says.

The 29-year-old percussionist is originally from Poland and emigrated to Chicago, and she earned both an undergraduate and a masters degree at Manhattan School of Music.

Suchocka, much like Farina, says she endured her share of heartbreak in the audition process.

The truth, she says, is all the applicants for principal positions are pretty equal in their skill and commitment, and it all comes down to who’s having the best day.

“Especially when you get to the finals; it's like what color do they like, purple or blue?" she says. "You can't take things hard. The best way I would say to persevere in this field is to not take things personally. To be grateful for every opportunity you have."

Suchocka has performed with the Chicago Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony and Kansas City Symphony, among others, and she said the pre-professional journey is an exciting time of your life precisely because you're getting to sit in with a lot of different musicians.

"One of the things I really liked about kind of being in this kind of freelance state before I got my position was being able to play with all these great orchestras," she says. "It’s like trying out different sounds, watching great principals play in front of me and learning from them. It's almost like a bittersweet thing. When you have a job like this, you are now supposed to be the one that's an inspiration to others. And it's very, very humbling.”

Cope, raised in Utah, says that she’s been playing the harp since she was five years old.

The 27-year-old earned her masters degree at New England Conservatory of Music — the same school where Farina earned his masters — and she had the opportunity to sit in with the Boston Symphony a few times.

When she was a youngster, says Cope, her mom had to make sure she was practicing all the time.

But then she grew to love it.

Cope says she first began considering a career as a professional musician after a middle school aptitude test, and her position with the Sarasota Orchestra represents something she's worked for her whole life.

"It’s a dream come true for me. I’ve wanted to do this for years and to finally be wanted and get paid for what I love to do, it’s amazing being here," she says. "I know I'm young and have a lot to learn. But I have this newfound confidence. They want me here. I know what I'm doing a little bit. It feels good to be trusted."

Marcelina Suchocka says she briefly played in a metal band in high school. (Photo by Harry Sayer)
Marcelina Suchocka says she briefly played in a metal band in high school. (Photo by Harry Sayer)

The orchestra may seem like a natural destination for a harpist, but both Farina and Suchocka say they played in bands before embarking on an orchestra career.

Farina says he played jazz in high school and college, and he also played with some ska bands in Boston.

For Suchocka, whose mom is a classically trained pianist, there was a brief flirtation with rock and roll.

"In high school, I actually had a metal band much to my parents' dismay," she says. "I formed an ensemble because we wanted to compete in the Battle of the Bands. Because I was kind of the only competent drummer in the school at the time, I ended up being the drummer for every single group.

"So for the Battle of the Bands, I just stayed behind the drum kit and all these long-haired guys would swap out roles. I had many, many loud practice sessions in my basement. I don't know how my mom didn't kill me."

Her days playing in metal bands may be over, but her days playing Berlioz are just beginning.

Suchocka says that one of the hidden challenges of her role is that she has to play a number of instruments including some she's never played before.

"Especially when I was at the New World Symphony that would happen quite a bit," she says. "I would be required to play like an udu drum. And I'm like, 'What in the world is that?' Nobody can sit down and teach me. I can't ask my colleagues. So I would literally either have to reach out and get a lesson with someone halfway across the world to play this instrument, oftentimes India or Africa, or I would have to seek out videos on YouTube and teach myself how to play."

All three of the new principals expect to have their families come and see them here in Sarasota, and for Cope, she's already had the experience of a loved one visiting and seeing her realize her dream.

"I've been married for six-and-a-half years. And my husband's still in Boston right now," she says.

"But he was able to come see our first concert, which was the hurricane relief benefit concert. That was really special that he got to be there for my first concert."

Farina says his mother and his brother have been in his corner for his journey, and his mom already came to town and visited shortly before the season started. 

But more importantly, he sensed something shifted when he landed his first professional gig with an orchestra.

It wasn't just his belief in himself. It was sheer relief from his family.

"I can tell she was in shock," he says of calling his mom with the news. "'Wait, oh my god, he finally won.' Because every audition I went to I was like, 'Played well. Didn't advance. Or I made semi-finals. But that's it. The audition before this one was the first time I made finals. I was like, 'Oh, I'm close. I've just got to keep going.' So there's definitely relief and like, 'Okay, I don't have to worry about about him anymore.'"

 

 

author

Spencer Fordin

Spencer Fordin, the Observer's A+E editor, hails from New York and graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1999. Fordin previously worked as a sportswriter for MLB.com for 16 seasons and as a features reporter for The Cayman Compass on Grand Cayman.