Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stuart & Friends: Reaching Out

“Stuart & Friends” is the annual program in which Harrisburg Symphony conductor Stuart Malina becomes “Pianist for a Day” and plays chamber music with some of his colleagues from the orchestra. Part of the funding for the concert – given by Marilynn Kanenson in memory of her husband, former Harrisburg Symphony Board President Dr. William Kanenson – stipulates what is called “an educational outreach program.” With the concert scheduled for Tuesday evening at Whitaker Center, the first of two such programs took place at 10am that morning at Whitaker Center; the second took place the next morning with two performances at 9:00am and 9:45am at Hilltop Academy in Mechanicsburg.

When I got to Whitaker Center – late, after spending 20 minutes trying to find a parking garage that was not full – Stuart and flutist David DiGiacobbe had just played the Poulenc Flute Sonata that would open the concert. He was just beginning to talk about the Haydn Trio, joined by cellist Fiona Thompson, pointing out and then playing the melodies and mentioning how they worked together. Then they played through the whole movement.

One of Haydn’s little tricks is to pull the unexpected. When they came to these surprises where the music stops abruptly in mid-phrase before going off somewhere else, they each froze for the second or two before the music resumes, as if someone had suddenly changed the subject. Some kids in the audience giggled because it was unexpected or maybe they thought “uh oh, they lost their place” – and that was a response Haydn would have been happy with. Even if you were wearing 18th Century powdered wigs, you can’t always be so serious.

The 2nd Movement is a slow song – not really slow, as Stuart translated the tempo indication andantino, “not really slow” – and playing the theme first, they showed how Haydn wrote variations on this to create an on-going variety. And then they played the entire 2nd Movement.

The last movement is a “rondo” which he explained was like something round, a circular form that starts with the main theme that then, as he traces a circle in the air, goes to a contrasting theme that, by the time you reach the top of the circle again, comes back to the main theme again. You can go around this circle any number of times and if you gave each theme a letter, it would look like

A - B - A - C - A - D - A and so on...

And then at the end, to give it more oomph, Stuart explained how Haydn adds a coda or “tail-end” to build to a big finish. After playing a couple excerpts, they played the entire movement. In the end, then, the students got to hear the entire trio on the installment plan.

Sitting in the back of the Sunoco Performance Theater, I could see the whole front “orchestra” section was nearly full, very quiet and attentive and when it was over, very appreciative. Alice Anne Schwab, the symphony’s Director of Education, told me they were expecting about 250 students from the Nativity School, Harrisburg Sci-Tech across the street and the Cathedral School as well as about 90 members of the Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra who were on the road that day and would be giving concerts of their own around Dauphin County before giving their Spring Concert that evening at the Forum (more of that in my next post).

Wednesday morning’s program at Hilltop Academy was a special program for special education classes, held in the “Living Skills Room” since they don’t really have a performance space, something they thought they’d probably not need. So the symphony was going to bring in a piano and have it tuned before the program so the students there could experience live music-making.

Programs like these may go under the radar for the average concert-goer in town but they’re a very important part of what the symphony – or any arts presenter – does. While musicians and actors and artists and dancers and writers can’t take up the slack when The Arts are cut from school budgets, every little bit helps. These programs go far beyond trying to sell more tickets: twenty or thirty years from now, these students may well be the future concert-goers and supporters, perhaps even the members of their communities’ arts organization.

Earlier this year, Stuart did a program of his own at the Highland Elementary School which you can read about on his blog, here.

And now, on to another facet of what the symphony does – the Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra whose concert that evening was conducted by Ronald Schafer. I’ll be posting that shortly.

No comments:

Post a Comment