The Michal Brothers take on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

“After six days of preliminary auditions, and 178 violinists, only eight violinists had been invited to the final audition. After the finalists had all played and the votes of the committee were tallied, the two brothers came out on top, and Maestro Muti offered Matous and Simon Michal positions in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra violin section.” –Chicago Symphony Musicians

Matous and Simon, ages 24 and 22, grew up in a small village of 300 people in Northeast Czech Republic. The brothers attended high school at the Prague Conservatory, a three-hour bus ride from their home. After attending Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, all of their hard work paid off. Matous Michal (MM ’16) and Simon Michal (’15) joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on February 4, 2016. We asked them some questions about their lives, careers, and time at MSM:

What has been your favorite experience with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra so far?

Simon: My favorite experience so far is working with our Music Director, Maestro Riccardo Muti. His enormous energy and joy for what he does always brings out the best in everyone in the orchestra. We recently played Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Everyone in the orchestra seemed to be a little tired of the piece due to how often they play it but with Maestro Muti, the orchestra sounded like it was the first time ever and everyone was enjoying it.

Matous
My favorite experience has definitively been the performance of Verdi’s Falstaff with Maestro Muti. That was a very inspiring and memorable week. I have learned so much from my colleagues and also the guest conductors in terms of how it really works in a professional orchestra.

What does a “day in the life of Simon or Matous” typically look like?

Simon: I think the most fun in this job is that every day is different. We have a different schedule and program every week, conductors lead rehearsals in different styles so we never get bored, and there is always a sense of the “new.” The only thing that seems to be quite regular is having 4 rehearsals and 3 to 4 concerts per week. 

Matous: I usually get up around 8 AM in the morning. I eat breakfast and walk over to the hall for a 10 AM rehearsal. After rehearsals I usually do some kind of work out and then relax. Later in the day I practice and prepare for the upcoming week.

What helped prepare you for your audition that ultimately led to your winning a position with the Chicago Symphony?

Matous: Practicing slowly with maximum focus.

Simon: Practicing slowly surely was an important part of it. The second thing I would say is to keep a cool head and have confidence in yourself that you can win. If that is missing, it is like admitting defeat before you even get started.

Where are you originally from? What do you like most about living in the U.S. and what do you miss about your hometown?

Simon: We are originally from Bezděkov nad Metují, Czech Republic, a small village in Northeast Czech only a few miles from Poland. I think the one thing I miss the most is being in touch with nature. Bezděkov has a population of 300 people, and it is surrounded by hills, fields, forests, and plenty of space. Living in NYC and Chicago is like being in another world.

Simon, if you could take a trip any place in the world, where would you go? Why?

Simon: Alaska and New Zealand. Two heavens on earth I always wanted to visit but never had the chance.  

Matous, what is one surprising thing people don't know about you?

Matous: I like to cook and bake.

What is the most surprising thing on your playlists?

Simon: Leonard Cohen, given that I only listen to classical music and jazz.

Matous: Leonard Cohen, as well. I think his music has a lot of substance and character.

If you could have a conversation with one person from the present or from history who would you choose and why?

Simon: Thomas Jefferson so he could change the 2nd Amendment.

Matous: Leonard Bernstein. I have read almost all the books that are out there about him and all the conversation books with him. He was in my opinion one of the most educated, talented and versatile musicians in history. He composed everything from classical music all the way to Broadway pop. His knowledge of music was immense.

What does MSM mean to you?

Simon: It was a very short but important step to achieve my goals. 

Matous: A lot of hard and fun lessons with Lisa Kim and Glenn Dicterow, who helped me win the job with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Matous, what's your favorite memory at MSM?

Matous: Playing concertmaster in one of the school orchestra concerts. One of the pieces on the program was Strauss’ Heldenleben, which has a massive violin solo. That was a very fun memory.

Simon, as brothers, how are you most similar and how are you most different?   

Simon: I’m not sure I can answer this question; that would be more for a third party judge. People tend to say we are different in many aspects; others say we are very similar. I think in general we like similar things but we go about it in different ways.

What is something outside of music you are passionate about?

Matous: I love watching English Premier League soccer and I am also a big fan of Chelsea FC. I wake up every weekend, usually both Saturday and Sunday around 6 or 6:30am (sometimes even earlier), to watch the games.

Simon: I’d say my biggest passion is to enjoy life properly. Do fun stuff and do not be bothered by everyday problems that will solve themselves. Relax, read a book with a glass of wine, go out with friends, and watch the Cubs finally win.

To visit the CSO Musician Spotlight on Simon and Matous, click here.

"A double posting for the CSO's second violin section" by CSO Sounds & Stories, available here.


From left to right: Matous and Simon


Simon Michal


Matous Michal


Courtesy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Photo by David Taylor