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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 2005, 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 email@example.com.
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