Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra Plays Farewell to Ron Schafer

The Harrisburg Youth Symphony Orchestra will play their last Forum performance under the direction of Dr. Ronald E. Schafer tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Forum in downtown Harrisburg.

Dr. Schafer is retiring after 42 years conducting the Youth Symphony.

And he's only the second director of the orchestra since it was founded in 1953 by Dr. Noah Klauss. Klauss taught violin and composition in the area and it is appropriate that tonight's program includes one of his compositions.

The orchestra is one of the oldest youth symphonies in the country. Its 85 musicians represent the finest from public, private, and home-school institutions in the Central Pennsylvania area.

This final performance under Dr. Schafer’s direction will include special guests, Central Dauphin CD Singers (Charles Masters, Director), Hershey High School Cantabile Choir (Joseph Farrell, Director) and Piano Soloist, Charles Masters.

The program will include:

Poet & Peasant: Overture -- Franz von Suppe
Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor -- Johannes Brahms
Cavalleria rusticana: Intermezzo -- Pietro Mascagni
Prelude for Orchestra -- Noah Klauss
Serenade for Strings: Finale -- Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pictures at an Exhibition: The Great Gate of Kiev -- Modeste Moussorgsky

Then joined by the choirs, the program continues with
The Creation: The Heavens are Telling -- Franz Josef Haydn
Choral Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Orchestra & Chorus --  Ludwig van Beethoven (with pianist Charles Masters, soloist)

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Approximately one-third of HYSO graduates will continue as music majors at the college and conservatory level. Many will continue to play in college and community orchestras. Presently, Harrisburg Youth Symphony graduates are performing in the Harrisburg, Dallas, Chicago, Houston Opera, and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras, and in regional orchestras throughout the United States.

Students participating in the HYSO represent the following schools: Annville-Cleona, Halifax, Biglerville, Harrisburg Academy, Big Spring, Hershey, Bishop McDevitt, Boiling Springs, Lower Dauphin, Carlisle, Cedar Cliff, Cedar Crest, Central Dauphin, Central Dauphin East, Covenant Christian Academy, Cumberland Valley, Elizabethtown, Mechanicsburg, Middletown, Redland, Susquehanna Township, Trinity, Upper Dauphin, West Perry, Mansfield University, and Lancaster General College.

Congratulations to this year's graduating seniors:

Kara Baker, violin, Central Dauphin East
Dominic Baldoni, Principal flute, Big Spring
Kristianne Bartolome, violin, Hershey
Emily Bayer, viola, Central Dauphin
David Bolton, viola, Cumberland Valley
Alexa Elias, oboe, Boiling Springs
Jessica Godshall, cello, Cedar Cliff
Emily Hansen, flute, Hershey
Kendall Hartman, violin, Hershey
Michele Herneisey, Principal horn, Middletown
Hanearl Kim, Principal cello, Hershey
Hilare Kimmel, violin, Cumberland Valley
Lara Miller, Principal tuba, Red Land
Kevin Myers, trombone, Bishop McDevitt
Mat Pagliassotti, violin, Central Dauphin
Angela Pornel, viola, Harrisburg Academy
Elisebeth Ross, clarinet, Red Land
Kailene Shank, viola, Elizabethtown
Mackenzie Sorem, violin, Harrisburg Academy
Chelsea Wanco, violin, Cedar Cliff
Hope Wingard, Principal trumpet, Middletown
Jessica Yeh, violin, Cumberland Valley

Dr. Schafer has spent most of his musical career teaching and conducting in the Central Pennsylvania area. He served as String Specialist and Director of Orchestras for 36 years in the Derry Township Public Schools, Hershey, and continues as Music Director of the Harrisburg Youth Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held for 38 years.

During his career Ron was invited to conduct various County, District, and Regional Orchestras in Pennsylvania , New York , and Maryland. The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association appointed him All-State Festival Chairman from 1979-1985 and in 1992 he was selected by PMEA to be guest conductor of the Pennsylvania All-State Orchestra that performed in Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh.

During his 25th Anniversary year, the Harrisburg Symphony Association presented him with their “Golden Baton” Award. The Pennsylvania and Delaware String Teachers Association recognized his career accomplishments with their “Distinguished Service Award.”

Locally, Ron also served as conductor of the Messiah College Orchestra, The Hershey Symphony Orchestra, the Central Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra, and The Harrisburg Opera Orchestra. A teacher of violin and viola, and a former member of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, he continues his support of educational and cultural activities by serving on the Education Committee of the Harrisburg Symphony Association and guest conducting and adjudicating festivals. Ron holds a Bachelors Degree from West Chester University, and a Masters and Doctorate from The Pennsylvania State University. An avid sports car enthusiast, he enjoys racing around the circuits at Watkins Glen, Pocono, and Mid-Ohio Race Tracks with other Porsche trained owners.

Tickets are not required for this concert: all seats are free.

- Kim Isenhour, Director of Marketing, Harrisburg Symphony
- Dick Strawser

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stuart & Friends: Meeting Students, Enriching Lives

One thing every musician learns fairly early, once the career path has been established, is that every performer, every composer needs to have an audience. And that's more than just playing in front of them, now.

There's also the future to consider, especially in a time when the role of the Arts in the public schools is almost ignored and most of the exposure the students have is from TV or the internet.

"Educational Outreach" is a term applied to a program when people from a group go out into the schools to meet and talk with students. In music, this usually means a performance for the students and a chance to talk to them about different aspects of the music they're listening to.

It's a largely unsung part of the musical group's life, far removed from the awareness of the audience who many only hear them perform in a concert hall. In many cases, these "outreach programs" are more important for the long range planning - the idea of building future audiences when, somewhere down the line, these students may start going to concerts and buying tickets on their own - and then introduce their own children to classical music through their positive reinforcement.

When I was going to college, one of the biggest issues I had with my music education courses was its almost total involvement with identifying future musicians and getting them started on a specific career path. This often left many students who may not have had the talent or the interest to go on to a professional level feeling frustrated. People can enjoy music without having to play it, write it or be experts in it. Instead, many of them are turned off and carry these negative impressions over into the next generation, their children.

It can be a very significant aspect of a person's life experience that will enrich their lives in ways no one can easily predict or successfully measure.

It's hard to say what will get a student interested in classical music but it's a pretty safe bet to say if they have NO experience with it, NO encounter with it, it's probably not going to happen on its own.

As part of this week's Stuart & Friends program, Stuart Malina and three members of the Harrisburg Symphony made two separate visits to schools in the area.

On Tuesday, Stuart and the orchestra's concertmaster Odin Rathnam performed for a group of students with disabilities (some multiple) at the Marshall School in Harrisburg, giving them a chance at an "up-close and personal" interaction with the musicians and the music they were making.

On Wednesday morning, following Tuesday night's well-attended concert at Whitaker Center, principal trumpet Phil Snedecor and principal trombone Brent Phillips joined Stuart at the Hershey School.

The photographs in this post were taken by Kim Isenhour, Director of Marketing for the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.

You can follow these links to the Harrisburg Patriot-News website PennLive to see videos posted there taken by Dan Gleiter.

- Dr. Dick

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Stuart & Friends" Tonight

Tonight at Whitaker Center, it's time for an annual tradition in our local music scene when the conductor of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra joins with some of his colleagues from the orchestra to play chamber music.

Stuart & Friends is a concert I do each year with members of the orchestra” says Maestro Stuart Malina. “It gives me a chance to work in a different way with the players and to give our audience members a more intimate and personal concert experience. I strive, as host, to keep the atmosphere relaxed, upbeat, and fun, while playing some beautiful music for them.”

The annual Stuart & Friends tradition continues as the Maestro takes to the piano to play with HSO musicians Phil Snedecor (Principal Trumpet), Brent Phillips (Principal Trombone), Odin Rathnam (Concertmaster), and Jennifer DeVore (cellist) for an intimate evening of music for small ensembles. On the first half Maestro Malina will accompany Mr. Snedecor and Mr. Phillips, while on the second half he will be joined by Mr. Rathnam and Ms. DeVore.

This year, the Stuart & Friends program includes:
Copland - Quiet City
Snedecor - Prayer
Trad/Snedecor - Danny Boy
Bizet - Carmen Suite
Ferro - Notes of Love
Turrin - Fandango
Brahms - Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major

The concert also includes two opportunities for the musicians to “reach out” to students in area schools to bring them a bit of live music making.

Stuart and Odin will be going to the Marshall School (behind Harrisburg High School) to lead an interactive performance for the students. This will be a great opportunity for students with disabilities (some multiple) in the Harrisburg School District to have up-close and personal interaction with these two great musicians. Music can be such a great educational and expressionism tool for students who may face additional challenges in their every day lives.

Then tomorrow morning at 9:30 (very early for brass players, btw), there's a music workshop at the Milton Hershey School when Stuart will be joined by Phil and Brent for an instructional workshop with the MHS Band.

“One lovely aspect of this concert is that it is sponsored by my friend Marilynn Kanenson in memory of her husband, Bill, who was president of the HSO's Board of Directors for my third and fourth years here. He was my first friend in Harrisburg, and a dear man whom I miss very much. Marilynn's support has allowed Stuart & Friends to grow and develop an audience.” says Malina.

The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra presents Stuart & Friends at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Whitaker Center's Sunoco Theatre, located at 222 Market Street, Harrisburg , PA. Tickets for this performance are $18 and $25 and are available by calling THE BOX at 214-ARTS (2787) or online through the Whitaker Center Website.

You can hear WITF's Creative Zone here with Cary Burkett, recorded (both audio and video) last Friday in WITF's studio.

Kim Isenhour, Director of Marketing, Harrisburg Symphony
Dick Strawser, chief blogger

Sunday, April 18, 2010

So What Did You Think of the Concert?

Stuart Malina has a poll set up at his website where you can let us know what you thought of this weekend's concert, if you attended either Saturday evening's or Sunday afternoon's performance.

Follow this link and answer a few simple questions - you can also leave any more detailed comments there (or here) if you wish.


- Dr. Dick

Brahms, the Lullaby & his 2nd Symphony

At his pre-concert talk before Saturday night's performance, Stuart Malina was talking about the similarity between the 2nd Theme Brahms wrote for the first movement of his Symphony No. 2 and the most famous melody Brahms ever wrote – his “Lullaby.” He asked me if I knew anything about this, if Brahms ever publicly explained this, but all I could remember about the song was that it had been written for an old girlfriend of his who had just given birth to her 2nd child. I didn't recall anything about Brahms using it consciously in the symphony.

When I got home, I checked Jan Swafford's biography of Brahms, where he writes about the Lullaby, "...the ingenuous little tune unfolds (so much of Brahms in this) as counterpoint to a lilting Viennese Ländler that Frauenchor visitor Bertha Porubzsky used to sing to him in Hamburg [when Brahms conducted the women's chorus there], when Bertha was young and he loved her, before he let her slip away. In the same way he had worked the old song 'Josef, lieber Josef mein' into the 'Geistliches Wiegenlied' for the Joachims' child. The new 'Wiegenlied' is entirely symbolic then, as Brahms hinted when he sent the song to [her husband] Arthur Faber in July: 'Frau Bertha will realize that I wrote the "Wiegenlied" for her little one. She will find it quite in order... that while she is singing Hans to sleep, a love song is being sung to her.'"

That was in 1868. What Swafford also mentions but without drawing any "conclusions" from the observation is that in the summer of 1877 - when he composed the 2nd Symphony - he spent the first of 3 very happy summers at Pörtschach on Lake Worth (see photograph, left) "near Bertha and Arthur Faber's summer place." This was the couple for whom he'd written the Lullaby 9 years earlier!

Coincidence? Maybe, but it might've been on his mind, again. And while he always complained about the song's popularity, he didn't mind the money it brought in – what he minded was other people "mangling his counterpoint" when they made their own arrangements of it.

So that's one possibility.

And yes, the symphony was composed in four months that summer - unlike the 1st Symphony which he spent 15 years on (there had been another 5-10 years spent on other attempts at getting a symphony started, but 15 years on the music that became the REAL 1st Symphony). That summer, he also wrote "the anguished motet 'Warum ist das Licht gegeben?' Why is the light given to them that toil?" He wrote this after the joyous finale of his 2nd Symphony.

As he'd begun work on the new symphony, Brahms wrote to Elisabeth von Herzogenberg (another ex-girlfriend), "You have only to sit down at the piano, put your small feet on the two pedals in turn, and strike the chord of F Minor several times in succession, first in the treble, then in the bass... and you will gradually gain a vivid impression of my latest." While it's possible that might have been from an earlier draft, it's more likely he was just pulling her little leg.

He also wrote to his publisher about it, adding 'I have never written anything so sad, so minorish. The score must appear with a black border" [like a mourning card announcing a funeral].

The symphony opens in pastoral charm and, except for a few shadows along the way, unfolds in anything but melancholy and mourning. As he wrote to the critic Hanslick about how beautiful Pörtschach was: "The melodies fly so thick here that you have to be careful not to step on one."

Two years later, he wrote to someone who'd criticized his use of the timpani and trombones in the 1st movement, a rather unexpected entrance that concludes the introduction and feels like dark shadows before the real first theme unfolds. Brahms responded that "I would have to confess that I am... a severely melancholic person, that black wings are constantly flapping above us and that in my output - perhaps not entirely by chance - that symphony is followed by a little essay about the great 'Why.' If you don't know this [motet] I will send it to you. ['Warum ist das licht gegeben'] It casts the necessary shadow on the serene symphony and perhaps accounts for those timpani and trombones."

A friend of Brahms' thought in the last movement of the symphony "the gaiety becomes almost violently brilliant and seems stage-managed," like Brahms on a Prater merry-go-round, drinking with friends in a cafe: he threw himself into the gaiety but in the end was mostly show [quoting Swafford].

Of course, if those trombones were shadows on the opening, they certainly had come 'round by those final chords!

But there's also this – written in a letter to a friend in which he mentions that in the first movement (though he doesn't say where) he alluded to a song he'd written earlier that spring, jotting a few words from Heine's poem under "those measures." The poem is "Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze" ('It's lovely to be in love in the Springtime') but it's a "lacerating irony [hidden] within charming little verses,” a bitter-sweet evocation: a shepherdess sitting by the river is making daisy-garlands but has no boyfriend to give them to. She falls for a handsome horseman but he rides on out of sight and the poor devastated shepherdess flings her wreath of daisies into the river with the final refrain of the opening line, “It's lovely to be in love in the Springtime.” Sorrowful undertones shadow both this pastoral song and, perhaps not coincidentally, the pastoral symphony he composed that summer.

Brahms had just turned 44 – he wrote to Joachim on the birth of a son (on Brahms' birthday), "One can hardly in the event wish for him the best of all wishes, not to be born at all." Cheerful guy... But that was his frame of mind as he set about writing the 2nd Symphony – perhaps the genesis WAS in melancholy minor chords suitable for black borders...

I'd have to find Heine's poem to see how it might scan against the 2nd theme, but my guess is – the allusion to the lullaby, the vicinity of the couple he'd written it for, the recent birthday wishes for Joachim's newborn son and the Heine poem - very possibly, there are more shadows than we might think?

Another timely coincidence – after finishing the 2nd Symphony, Brahms stopped on his way back to Vienna to visit conductor Hans von Bülow and played over the 1st Symphony for him at the piano. That was when Bülow referred to it as "Beethoven's 10th." Shortly afterward, the conductor, a champion of Brahms', also wrote to a friend using a little phrase that started getting bandied about, about three composers who names all started with B...

- - - - - - -

UPDATE: My response to Tim Dixon's comment (below) about the similarity between the opening of Brahms' 2nd Symphony and Stephen Foster's 'Beautiful Dreamer' includes a link that apparently doesn't work in the comment field. Hopefully, it will, here - check out the "Unbegun Symphony" by Peter Schickele: the last movement, which pits the opening of the Brahms 2nd against Foster's 'Beautiful Dreamer' in the flute, begins around 5:30 into the clip. (It seems you can only listen to it once, if it works at all... well, worth trying to find it, any way...)

- Dr. Dick

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jennifer Higdon Wins the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Music

It was announced this afternoon that Jennifer Higdon won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto. Composed for Hilary Hahn, it was given its world premiere last season.

You can read about it here, courtesy of The New Music Box.

You can also read her own response to what it's like  winning a Pulitzer, here, also posted at the New Music Box.

I've also posted more about the Violin Concerto on my blog, Thoughts on a Train, including some comments I'd jotted down while listening to the on-line broadcast last June.

In January, the Harrisburg Symphony played the opening movement, 'SkyLine,' of "CityScape" and in past seasons performed the Percussion Concerto with our principal percussionist Chris Rose. Before that, one of the most frequently performed new works in the United States, Blue Cathedral.

Recordings of the Concerto for Orchestra and the Percussion Concerto have been nominated for Grammies in the past. Earlier this year, she won a Grammy for the Percussion Concerto.

The Violin Concerto was recorded at its European premiere with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic last Spring and is scheduled to be released some time late this year.

You can read more about the Violin Concerto (with the composer being interviewed by the performer in a YouTube Video) here.

- Dr. Dick

Thursday, April 8, 2010

April's Concerts: A Musical Tapestry with Life & Friends

Stuart Malina and I had a chance to sit down and chat about two programs with the Harrisburg Symphony - what to expect as well as what's going on behind the music and behind the scenes.

You can hear our latest podcast here.

This month's Masterworks Concert with the Harrisburg Symphony features a new symphony, an old symphony, and a member of the orchestra in the soloist's spotlight. Those concerts will be at the Forum on Saturday, April 17th, at 8pm and Sunday, April 18th, at 3pm.

That program includes Kevin Puts' Symphony No. 2 "Island of Innocence," (hear a sound-clip of it, here) Camille Saint-Saëns' Cello Concerto No. 1 with principal cellist Fiona Thompson, and Johannes Brahms' 2nd Symphony.
Then two days later, it's time for "Stuart and Friends" which will feature four members of the orchestra playing chamber music with conductor Stuart Malina at the piano - and that will be at Whitaker Center, Tuesday evening, April 20th, at 7:30pm.

This performance opens with several works featuring principal trumpeter Phil Snedecor (including two of his original compositions and arrangements) and principal trombonist Brent Phillips. On the second half of the program, Stuart will be joined by concertmaster Odin Rathnam and cellist Jennifer DeVore for Brahms' B Major Piano Trio.

Huh! And with everything else he has to do - conduct the concert, play a chamber music program a couple of days later - Stuart didn't tell me he's also doing the pre-concert talks before the Saturday and Sunday concerts, an hour before each performance!

Wait till you hear about the New Piece he's going to be composing for the last concert of the 2010-2011 Season! But we'll save that podcast for a little later.

- Dr. Dick