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Music for Brass, Strings, and Chorus

Posted by ksampson in Announcements on January 27, 2014

Lexington Symphony Music Director Jonathan McPhee talks about the collaborative process behind the unique programming for the Symphony’s not-to-be-missed upcoming concert on Saturday, February 8th.

Music Director Jonathan McPhee

One of the really unique things about Lexington Symphony is the high level of involvement of the orchestra members. Each season, I sit down with members of the orchestra to discuss works they would like to play and figure out how we can build them into our upcoming programming. In recent years, we have added a June program completely created by the musicians: a “concert-in-the-round” where they perform works that are seldom heard on a full orchestra concert.

The concept of the program for our upcoming February 8th concert grew out of this collaborative process. Lexington Symphony’s string musicians suggested favorites like Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, and the seldom-heard Variations on a Theme by Arensky, which is based on a tune written by Tchaikovsky. Our brass section, reveling in the music of the Renaissance, suggested works like Gabrieli’s Canzona Primi Toni a 10 and Canzona per Sonare, and Susato’s La Mourisque. Audiences tend to miss the beauty of these works, which usually only appear on a specialized string concert or a brass ensemble performance. We decided to build a full subscription concert that highlights sections of the orchestra with specialized writing for their instruments.

Peter Warlock’s Capriole Suite — an intriguing work that I have always loved — rounds out the string presentation. Warlock, whose real name was Phillip Heseltine, was a brilliant and tragic individual with a split personality. This fabulous piece builds on tunes from the Renaissance era filtered through the modern sensibilities of a dramatic and tortured soul.

This concert of music for strings and brass also seemed like an appropriate place to reprise our relationship with composer Michael Gandolfi. Last season, Lexington Symphony commissioned an orchestral work from Gandolfi in celebration of the town of Lexington’s 300th anniversary. In recognition of this special project and the people who financially supported this commission, we held a private event at which Symphony members and Lexington High School’s Chamber Choir — conducted by their Music Director, Jason Iannuzzi — performed Gandolfi’s stunning work for chorus and string quartet entitled Winter Light. The audience reaction to this performance was so profound that I suggested we repeat this work as part of the February 8th concert.

Will this concert be your typical Beethoven Symphony evening? No. It will, however, be a concert you will not want to miss —an evening of glorious music exploring the richness of the brass and string sections, highlighted by Michael Gandolfi’s beautiful work for chorus and strings.

February 8, 2014 / Saturday, 8 p.m.

Susato, La Mourisque
Gabrieli, Canzon Primi Toni a 10
Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings
Wagner, Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral
Warlock, Capriole Suite
Gandolfi, Winter Light
Arensky, Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky
Gabrieli, Canzona per Sonare #2

Encouraging the Musicians of Tomorrow

Posted by ksampson in Announcements on December 9, 2013

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.

Lexington Symphony violinist and concertmaster Liz Whitfield. Photo by Jan van Steenwijk.

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.

Lexington Symphony principal cello Nathaniel Lathrop mentors students at Lexington High School (above and below). Photos by Diane Sperandio.

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!

Project 351 Food Drive at Holiday POPS!

Posted by ksampson in Announcements on December 3, 2013

If you are coming to one of our Holiday POPS! concerts this Friday, December 6th, in addition to your singing voice we hope you will consider bringing a contribution for the Lexington Food Pantry to help support families and children in need and Project 351.

Talia Ruxin, an 8th-grader from Lexington, has organized the food drive at our Holiday POPS! concerts as an Ambassador of Project 351 — a service leadership program that unites inspiring young leaders from every city and town in the state for a year of enrichment, leadership development, and service. Talia is one of more than 400 8th-grade Ambassadors who were nominated and selected by educators for their exemplary ethics, kindness, compassion, humility, and generosity of spirit.

To support Project 351 in its efforts to ensure that local children and families are nourished during the winter months, simply drop off your contributions as you enter Cary Hall for one of our Holiday POPS! concerts.

Please bring one or more of the following items ONLY:

tuna fish (5.7-ounce cans)
peanut butter (15-ounce jars)
canned fruit (16-ounce cans)

Lexington Symphony is pleased to be supporting Talia in her efforts to build skills, confidence, empathy, and compassion, and to engage with and help her community.