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Last week, 2,000 kids listened, laughed, cheered, and “conducted” from their seats — engaged, entertained and educated by Lexington Symphony’s Orchestrating Kids Through Classics™ (OKTC), the original award winning education program created to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra and the history of classical music.
OKTC is a two-part program which begins with a classroom visit by a quartet of Lexington Symphony musicians. This is followed by a trip through 500 years of music history with the whole orchestra at Cary Hall – from chanting monks to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, & Tchaikovsky… all the way to John Williams’ thrilling Star Wars theme, and a special guest from the dark side!
Since 2009, Lexington Symphony has performed for over 19,000 students across the state, including providing scholarships to underserved communities.
“I always look forward to conducting OKTC. Seeing thousands of children captivated by the sounds of each instrument as it is introduced on stage, and watching the kids react to how the sound of the orchestra changes is fun and inspiring. In a way, it is not only the history of Western Music, but a window into the history of creativity itself.”
Thank you to Lexington Symphony’s generous donors and corporate sponsors for making OKTC possible.
Lexington Symphony Music Director Jonathan McPhee talks about the challenging artistic process of condensing Wagner’s masterful “Ring Cycle.”
Reducing Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” — one of the greatest musical achievements in history — from more than 17 hours of music to two evenings of three hours each was a daunting task. There are multiple ways to approach such a project. One is to do only the important vocal arias as in “Excerpts from the Ring,” omitting all of the orchestral sections. Another is to concentrate only on the sections that are important to the story, as in David Seaman’s “Mini-Ring.” A third is to perform Act 1, Scene 1 of this, and Act 2, Scene 3, etc. without cuts, regardless of key relationships.
With this project, I utilized an entirely different approach. Unlike the others, my guiding principle in creating “The Essential Ring” was to include as many of the great arias as possible, keeping as much of the landmark orchestral selections as I could and making key transitions as smooth and invisible as possible. Within these parameters, the storyline has been retained in vocal terms while always being true to the dramatic flow of the work. This version of “The Ring” has been created to give the audience — the majority of whom may never have attended a full “Ring Cycle” — an overview of a masterpiece. I wanted to give them an appreciation of all the elements that make Wagner’s “Ring” such an amazing theatrical work, with the hopes that it may inspire them to someday attend a full “Ring Cycle” performance.
It is not possible to condense 17 hours of great music into two evenings of three hours each without missing something we all know and love. Wagner’s use of the leitmotif, structure, melodic invention, orchestration, theatricality, and pure drama changed the course of musical history forever. True devotees will know what has been left out but my hope is that my version will send the rest of the audience out of the hall knowing and appreciating that Wagner’s “Ring” was truly the defining composition at that point in musical history. I want them to be carried off by the beauty and power of the voices and the music, and to fully experience Wagner’s masterful theatricality. My hope is that the audience will leave wanting to experience MORE.
I am excited to bring this new performing version to audiences in Massachusetts and New Hampshire with an amazing cast of singers and the combined orchestras of Lexington Symphony and Symphony New Hampshire.
Energized by a workshop led by Lexington Symphony’s new Development Director, Deb Rourke, board members, musicians and committee members reached out to donors and concert goers throughout November and December.
“We had a wonderful opportunity to speak with donors about their commitment and love for the Symphony and to personally thank them and convey the impact of their contributions,” said Board President Epp Sonin.
“A special thanks goes to Dick Fields, Joe Hansen, Randy Hiller, Barbara Hughey, Jay Kaufman, Bill Kirkley, Jeff Leonard, Stephanie Stathos, Marlene Stone, John Tarr and Liz Whitfield, for writing hundreds of personal notes and calling or visiting with donors.”
Rourke remarked, “Many people don’t realize that ticket sales only cover one-third of our annual operating expenses. We are extremely grateful to our donors.”
The support of individuals and local businesses makes it possible for Lexington Symphony to bring beautiful music into the heart of our town, expand our nationally recognized outreach programs, and remain a strong and vibrant part of the cultural fabric of our community.
. . . is singing loud for all to hear! Lexington Symphony and Music Director Jonathan McPhee will give families and people of all ages the chance to do just that in celebration of the holiday season on Saturday, December 5 with its annual Holiday POPS! concerts, which will take place at Cary Hall (1605 Massachusetts Avenue) in Lexington at 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. These festive seasonal concerts — both of which are family-friendly — have become a cherished holiday tradition in Lexington and surrounding towns.
The 4:00 p.m. Holiday POPS! concert offers a 45-minute program suited for families with young children, many of whom will count this experience as their very first symphony concert. Featured in the program will be popular selections such as The Harry Potter Suite, The Polar Express, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as well as beloved holiday classics such as Frosty the Snowman and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. A special visitor from the North Pole will also make an appearance, bringing the magic and joy of the holiday season to life for children and adults alike.
The 7:30 p.m. Holiday POPS! concert focuses on holiday favorites that evoke joyous memories. The program for this performance includes familiar and nostalgic holiday songs such as March of the Wooden Soldiers, Miracle on 34th Street, A Charlie Brown Christmas, a selection of Irving Berlin tunes such as Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep and White Christmas, and other seasonal favorites.
Tickets for the 4 p.m. concert are $8 for children 12 and under, and $20 for adults (young children or infants who will remain on an adult’s lap for the entire concert do not need tickets). Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert are $15 for students, and $40 for adults. Early ticket purchase for these annual holiday concerts, which often sell out, is encouraged. Based on availability, a limited number of tickets may be offered for purchase at the door.
Lexington Symphony’s 2014–2015 season has been a milestone year. Not only has it been the 20th consecutive year of operation for this successful nonprofit professional orchestra, but it has also marked the 10th anniversary for the organization’s Music Director, Jonathan McPhee.
A leading musical figure in New England, McPhee officially joined Lexington Symphony in 2004, after he guest conducted for the orchestra during its conductor search. “I originally came to Lexington Symphony (which was then Lexington Sinfonietta) because of the people in the orchestra. I had guest conducted for them, and there was an intensity — and a true love for making music — that came through. That kind of joy is infectious.”
During the past decade, McPhee has strived to maintain the player-centered spirit of the orchestra while also acting as a catalyst for tremendous organizational and artistic growth. His tireless focus and his penchant for challenging classical music audiences with innovative programming have helped the organization to flourish. “When we moved to Cary Hall [from the National Heritage Museum] in 2005, the entire organization blossomed,” recounts McPhee. “What resonated with me was the fact that the orchestra was located in an ideal community that was intelligent and cared about culture and, of course, history. The potential was all around to build, and I am a builder.”
Working with a solid foundation comprised of a group of exceptionally talented and passionate musicians, devoted board and staff members, and supportive patrons and volunteers, McPhee has expanded the Symphony’s programming, enabling the orchestra to reach new artistic heights. “Looking back over the past 10 years, I can think of many fabulous experiences,” says McPhee. “We have explored new music and old favorites; popular music and music from the movies. Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 was a milestone for the orchestra, the community, and for me personally. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Elgar’s Enigma Variations also stand out as personal favorites.”
Striving to find new ways to broaden the musical repertoire, McPhee has also worked with the Symphony to commission new classical compositions by contemporary composers. During the 2012–2013 season, the Symphony’s “3 for 300th” campaign led to the creation — and performance — of three new works by composers Sky Macklay, Michael Gandolfi, and John Tarrh in celebration of the town of Lexington’s 300th anniversary. McPhee has also nurtured collaborative relationships with other cultural organizations on behalf of the Symphony. In 2007, the Symphony presented a two-part multimedia concert series, Sight and Sound, which featured specially selected photographs from the Polaroid Collections. Other collaborations from the past decade include performances with New World Chorale, The Master Singers, and the Nashua Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. McPhee has also regularly engaged guest performers from near and far, the likes of which have included British violinist Ruth Palmer, Estonian pianist Diana Liiv, Boston-based pianist Max Levinson, soprano Dominique LaBelle, and numerous young, up-and-coming musicians from Lexington.
Programming directed at diverse audiences has been another area of focus for the Symphony and for McPhee, who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of educating young people about classical music. “One of the most fun experiences I’ve had with the Symphony was the first Holiday Pops concert for kids in 2009. We had no idea that adding a 4 p.m. Holiday Pops performance would draw an audience of kids under the age of six with their parents. It was so good to see so many young people at their first live orchestra concert! What an opportunity.” The Symphony also launched its award-winning educational outreach program for third and fourth graders, Orchestrating Kids Through Classics™, during McPhee’s tenure.
The important work McPhee has done on behalf of — and the positive impact has had on — Lexington Symphony isn’t lost on the organization, which hosted a surprise party for him on Monday, January 19 in celebration of his 10th anniversary with the orchestra. Held in Lexington at the home of board member Miyana Bovan, the event — planned by violinist Barbara Hughey and cellist Susan Griffith — was attended by members of the orchestra; past and current board members; Jonathan’s wife, Deborah; staff members; and volunteers. A commemorative book (created by Griffith) containing pictures and programs from the past 10 years, along with personal notes from musicians, board members, and others who have been involved with the orchestra, was presented to McPhee. “He is an inspiring conductor with a leadership style that encourages the highest level of performance and cooperation from all musicians, board members, and staff,” says Epp Sonin, the Symphony’s board president.
In the end, McPhee says the work he does as Lexington Symphony’s music director all boils down to one thing: the audience. “The audience is really special in Lexington, and they are critical to feeling satisfied with a well-played concert,” he explains. “An orchestra is a living, breathing thing, and the audience is what we live for. Our job is to inspire, entertain, and educate. Providing that balance in Lexington has been, and continues to be, exhilarating.”
Four Lexington Symphony musicians (Elizabeth Whitfield, Rebecca Hawkins, William Kirkley, and Jobey Wilson) visited 24 schools in January as part of the Symphony’s Orchestrating Kids Through Classics™ (OKTC) program. The classroom visits were a prelude to four concerts exploring the history of classical music offered by Music Director Jonathan McPhee and Lexington Symphony, which took place at the end of January.
During the brief (45-minute) school visits, the musicians covered a multitude of topics, including science, math, history, and language arts. The idea of playing a position on a sports team was used as a comparison to the differing roles musicians play within an orchestra. Different types of chocolate came in handy as an example when explaining musical “themes and variations,” and the suggestion of pouring water into a tuba (figuratively, of course) helped students envision how a tuba’s pitch can be highered or lowered.
The musicians also infused their presentations with plenty of humor (as demonstrated in the photo above). “They spoke to the students right at their level, and did a great job keeping their interest,” reported one of the classroom teachers.
Christina Gamota, founder and chair of Lexington Symphony Concert Fund Partners — the sponsoring organization of our upcoming October 18th concert — talks about her lifelong love of music, what makes Lexington Symphony special, and her drive to offer support for large-scale programs, guest artists, and extraordinary musical experiences.
When, why, and by whom was Lexington Symphony Concert Fund Partners (LSCFP) founded?
It began in 2008. The idea came to me after a Rachmaninoff concert in September of 2007. I was so moved and inspired the brilliant performance of pianist Sergey Schepkin that my mind was full of floating ideas and questions, such as: How can we continue to have concerts like this? How can we set up sponsorships? How can we make it more affordable? I knew we had to use a different approach to draw larger participation, and I thought it could be a partnership created by friends and lovers of music. The purpose of the Fund is to provide substantial financial support for large-scale programs, and to bring renowned guest artists and extraordinary musical experiences to the town of Lexington. With these ideas, I approached Music Director Jonathan McPhee, who was very positive about the idea. He asked me what kind of music I would like to hear. Being Ukrainian by birth, I said, “Chaika, or Tchaikovsky as you know him.” He smiled and said he had some great ideas as well. That was enough for me. One evening soon after, I started approaching friends about the idea and everybody was supportive. By the end of the night, I had five partners. I thought I was halfway to my goal, though later I learned that the figure I was given was only going to cover a little less than half the cost of a concert. It didn’t matter; my objective was to cover the entire concert, and I knew I could do it. We started with 13 partners and three pending. Today, seven years later in 2014, we have 30 partners involved in the Fund.
How did you get involved with Lexington Symphony?
My first meeting was when the Symphony was called Sinfonietta, and they were looking for someone to help them raise money. That was more than 15 years ago. At that time, unfortunately, I was not able to help. In 2006, I was approached again about ideas for fundraising. On June 1, 2007, I had a fundraiser at my residence that featured music and art (art is my other passion).
What makes Lexington Symphony special?
Lexington Symphony provides the community with excellent classical music, and it is also known for its unique outreach program and conductor’s talks. The orchestra engages all age groups in the community from youth to seniors.
Can you talk about your interest in and/or love of music?
As a child of the war and later an immigrant in several countries, I traveled with my dad to many of his choir rehearsals. Music brought hope to my father in strange lands and made him happy. He had a beautiful voice, and music became increasingly important in my life. In my family, music was the hope and memories of the past that sustained us in good and bad times. It was also a new learning experience, as it continues to be.
What is your long-term vision for LSCFP?
My vision for the LSCFP program is that it will continually grow so we will be able to have more large-scale programs, bring in renowned guest artists, and have great concerts. (The list of concerts supported by LSCFP to date is below.)
What is required to become a Lexington Symphony Concert Fund Partner, and what are the benefits of doing so?
Lexington Symphony Concert Fund Partners are individuals or families who donate a minimum of $1,000 in support of Lexington Symphony each year. Since its inception, LSCFP has contributed a total of $170,000.
Being a Lexington Symphony Concert Fund Partner has the following benefits: (1) a season preview with maestro Jonathan McPhee; (2) a special invitation to an open rehearsal; (3) two additional tickets to a concert of your choice; and (4) a private post-concert reception. For partners who donate $3,000 and above, a special dinner with Maestro Jonathan McPhee is also offered.
Where can people get more information about supporting Lexington Symphony by becoming a Lexington Symphony Concert Fund Partner?
Anyone who is interested in becoming a Lexington Symphony Concert Fund Partner can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Concerts Supported by Lexington Symphony Concert Fund Partners
2008–2009 Season: November 8, 2008
Mussorgsky, Dawn Over the Moskva River
Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4 featuring Irina Muresanu, violin
2009–2010 Season: February 6, 2010
Diamond, Rounds for Strings
Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21 in C
Copland, Appalachian Spring featuring George Li, piano
2010: November 20, 2010
Mahler, Symphony No. 8
2011–2012 Season: September 17, 2011
Holst, Planets featuring New World Chorale
2012–2013 Season: November 10, 2012
Mahler, Symphony No. 5
2013–2014 Season: November 16, 2013
Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 featuring Michelle Trainor, soprano; Janna Baty, alto; Ray Bauwens, tenor; and Mark Risinger, bass
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Dona Nobis Pacem featuring Michelle Trainor, soprano; Michael Prichard, baritone; and New World Chorale
2014–2015 Season: October 18, 2014
Butterworth, A Shropshire Lad
Elgar, Dream of Gerontius featuring Barbara Quintiliani, soprano; Ray Bauwens, tenor; Aaron Engebreth, baritone; and New World Chorale
Here, we provide an overview of the music of renowned Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, which will be featured at our upcoming 2014-2015 season opener, “Estonian Night,” on Saturday, September 20th.
Arvo Pärt was born in Paide, Estonia, on September 11, 1935, and grew up in Tallinn. From 1958 to 1967, he was employed as a recording director and a composer of music for film and television for the music division of Estonian Radio. During this time, he studied composition under Heino Eller at the Tallinn Conservatory, graduating in 1963. His early works, written while he was still a student (a string quartet and some neoclassic piano music: two Sonatinas and a Partita in 1958) demonstrate the influence of Russian neoclassic composers such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev.
In the early 1970s, Pärt discovered a way of writing music that became uniquely his own. The first composition in Pärt’s new style was the piano piece Für Alina. In this piece, he explores widely spaced pitches on the piano that created a unique openness to the sound of the work. Pärt referred to this new style as “tintinnabuli.” The simplest way to describe this is that his choices of pitches “evoke the pealing of bells, the bells’ complex but rich sonorous mass of overtones, the gradual unfolding of patterns implicit in the sound itself, and the idea of a sound that is simultaneously static and in flux.” Pärt explains the term this way:
“Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers — in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises — and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”
When comparing all of Pärt’s post-1976 works, it becomes apparent that his approach to religion has given rise to a humbleness in his artistry. His music is often said to transport the listener to a “moment outside time,” emerging from silence at the beginning of the work and slowly returning to it as the piece closes. Whatever the intention of the pieces, many of his works can be said to reflect the inconceivable sadness that Mary and the disciples felt as Christ was crucified before them on the cross. Music critic Wolfgang Sandner states, “In a world in which Christian ideals are not universally acknowledged, this state of suffering (of the Passion of Christ without which all that comes after Christ cannot occur) is not one that must be artificially created.” The melodic figures, restricted to only a few notes, are powerful in that they are filled with both grace and sadness. Sandner notes that, “Arvo Pärt’s cryptic remarks on his compositions orbit around the words ‘silent’ and ‘beautiful’ — minimal, by now almost imperiled associative notions, but ones which reverberate his musical creations.”
Remarkably, many of the most powerful moments in Pärt’s compositions are a result of the simple action of a single line or the counterpoint created by only two voices. Dissonance is never meant to be abrasive but rather to convey the sense of suffering that is so apparent in many of Pärt’s works. “It has a beauty at once austere and sensuous that seems to be hardly of our time,” says Brian Morton in his book Contemporary Composers. “Yet there can be little doubt that the revelation of his music has been one of the most important factors in the development of a new sensibility in recent music.”
Pärt’s work is spotlighted in the Symphony’s 2014-2015 season opener program, which is offered in honor of his 80th birthday. As a featured guest for the evening, the Symphony welcomes pianist and fellow Estonian Diana Liiv, a favorite performer of Pärt’s works.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Tubin | Estonian Dance Suite
Pärt | Lamentate for piano and orchestra; Diana Liiv, piano
Pärt | Fur Alina, Für Anna Maria, and Variations for the Healing of Arinushka, for piano
Pärt | Tabula Rasa for solo violin, viola, and string orchestra with prepared piano
Sibelius | Kariela Suite
Sources: Biography by David E. Pinkerton II; Wolfgang Sandner, liner notes for Arvo Pärt Tabula Rasa; Donald J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 4th ed. (New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1988), 133; Morton and Collins, eds., Contemporary Composers, 729.
In November, Lexington Symphony musicians volunteered their time helping more than 70 Lexington High School students prepare for this year’s MMEA auditions. Concertmaster Liz Whitfield shares her thoughts about the experience.
It is 7:30 a.m. Not too early to be sipping coffee and reading the newspaper in the comfort of my own home, but rather early to be roaming the halls of Lexington High School. The corridors are teaming with teenagers, many in groups — so much talk about the previous day of school. Some are on the floor cramming for a test; others seem oblivious to the cacophony around them, enveloped in their own “surround-sound.” I feel out of place, but I am happily invisible in the crowd. My destination: the music wing.
I, along with many of my friends from Lexington Symphony, will spend an hour or so listening to a multitude of Lexington High student musicians who are preparing for auditions for the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) Senior District Festival. Students from around Massachusetts compete for prized spots in orchestra, choir, band, and jazz combo. We are the fortunate ones, helping them on their way just a little.
Over the course of seven days, we attend 13 teaching blocks, during which we listen to up to 81 students. Students show up six to eight at a time and perform their audition pieces in front of their peers — a daunting proposition in and of itself.
Sixty minutes isn’t nearly long enough to listen to three viola players play two movements of a gorgeous piece by Schumann and three violinists play a Mozart concerto. But everyone has a chance to play a piece, along with — of course — a dreaded scale! I make suggestions about phrasing, give a little technical help, and occasionally recommend a little practice with a metronome. Mostly, though, I offer a great deal of encouragement.
I find myself wishing that I could spend a whole block with each student, one at a time. They are quiet, attentive to the performances of their peers, and empathetic about the trickier passages. All too soon, the buzzer interrupts us, calling the kids to their next adventure in learning.
When all is said and done, the students are very appreciative — and hopefully a little better prepared for their auditions. As passionate musicians and devoted members of Lexington Symphony, we are thankful to have had the opportunity to share just a little of our “craft” with these talented young people.
On my way home, I can’t help but think about the Mozart concerto. Perhaps I will make the time to do a little work on it — with a metronome!