Music for Life – A baton is passed – June 2015
by Lois Alcosser
It’s one thing to read about “a group of talented musicians.” It’s quite another to actually see them, hear them and marvel at their skills. Attending a concert by the Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra is like that. You can hear the youthful intensity and see the concentrated desire for perfection on the faces of the musicians. Founded in 2002 as the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra by Gina Wilson and Carrie Moore, there were twenty-five young musicians who began weekly rehearsals and played their debut concert in 2003. Two years later, a string ensemble was added, and the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra became the Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra, to reflect the expansion to a larger regional area. A wind ensemble was also added. Today, nearly 90 young musicians, ages 8 to 18, from twelve towns in Connecticut and New York are part of the WCYO. In twelve years, the orchestra has grown from one ensemble to three. They have performed side-by-side with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, at Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls and concert tours to Austria, Sweden and Paris. They study under private teachers and join the orchestra through auditions. The need to excel is strong, and the student musicians constantly work to achieve the sound the composer intended and to interpret it creatively. The repertoire ranges from classical to contemporary.
Justin Elkins, String Ensemble Conductor, is a cellist and devoted music educator. Albert Montecalvo, the Wind Ensemble Conductor, has over 30 years of teaching experience and is a drummer and percussionist. Petko Dimitrov was music director and Symphony Orchestra Conductor for nine years before passing the baton to a new music director, Eric Mahl. As one of the musicians’ parents said “The musicians were good. Petko has made them great.” And, from another parent, “Petko has taught them more than music. He has taught them about life.” A native of Bulgaria, Dimitrov has been leading an amazing musical life: assistant conductor of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra and Symphony in C in Camden, N.J.; cover conductor of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. He has won many awards and has international recognition as music director of the of the New Symphony in Sofia, Bulgaria, and conductor and music director of Cavallo Classico, in Munich.
Maestro Dimitrov has exemplified the orchestra’s mission: to provide an opportunity for young musicians to develop their musical talents through education and performance, and have the experience of playing with their peers, providing cultural enrichment to the regional Connecticut and New York area. Dimitrov has brought the orchestra to an extraordinary level of excellence. His relationship with these young musicians becomes part of their lives. “Music is character,” he says. As a conductor, he is fascinating to watch. His understanding of the music and the musicians is apparent with every note that is played. His conducting is powerful and emotional, every finger involved in
expressing the intention of the composer. Another parent said: “They learn to learn. They learn to work. He doesn’t just teach them about music, he teaches them about life.” The music director’s response: “ I have learned so much from them.”
Currently, anticipation and excitement is in the air, for the young musicians, their teachers and their families. At the season’s final concert of the 2015 spring season, there was a literal and actual “Passing of the Baton.” The WCYO Symphony Orchestra played Rachmaninoff’s Youth Symphony, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite. The first Swan Lake scene was conducted by Maestro Dimitrov, who then handed the baton to WCYO’s new Music Director, Eric Mahl, who conducted Scene Two. To find a Music Director capable enough to follow Petko Dimitrov was a challenge for the Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra. Eric Mahl brings a variety of creative conducting experience to WCYO: assistant conductor of the Greenwich Village Orchestra and the Urban Playground Orchestra in New York City; music director of the Fredonia Symphony Orchestra, in Fredonia, N.Y.; cover conductor for the Orchard Park Symphony in Buffalo and assistant conductor of Orchestre 21 in Montreal. “To teach, inspire, and establish a meaningful relationship with WCYO musicians will go well,” Mahl believes, “because they are so well-trained and professional.”
An example of this is the orchestra’s Principal Cellist, Melanie Ambler, who performed Dvorak’s Cello Concerto magnificently. She won WCYO’s Concerto Competition, which has been held annually for the past nine seasons. The competition is open to all members of the WCYO Symphony Orchestra. The winner performs at a concert as soloist with the Orchestra. Melanie started playing cello when she was eight. She will attend Brown University as a pre-medical student but plans to continue her musical education by participating in the orchestra and other ensemble groups on campus.
Gina Wilson notes that though these young musicians may not make music their professional careers, they will have the joy and discipline of music enrich their lives. She also says, with pleasure and pride, that bass player Jonathan Borden is the first alumnus to be hired professionally by the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra. For a history of their programs and to see and hear WCYO perform excerpts of some of the orchestra’s performances, or to find out more about attending one of their concerts, visit www.wctyo.org. More information is available at the website by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 203-894-8786.
Former WCYO Conductor Appointed Assistant Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra – June 2011
Congratulations to former WCYO Music Director and Conductor Ankush Kumar Ball on his appointment as Assistant Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra beginning with the 2011-2012 season. Ankush’s conducting duties will include the NSO Young People’s Concerts, an NSO Family Concert, community engagement concerts, and activities with the NSO’s training programs. Check out the NSO website at www.kennedy-center. Porg/nso/ for more information on the National Symphony Orchestra.
Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra Adds New Ensemble – April 2010
The Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra (WCYO) will complete its 2009-2010 season with a concert on May 9th at 6:00 pm at Richardson Auditorium at Ridgefield High School, and with the annual Garden Party concert and fundraiser on June 6th at Bernard’s Restaurant, but the organization is already looking toward next season and the introduction of a new ensemble. Along with the existing Youth Symphony Orchestra and Junior String Ensemble, the WCYO will add a Wind Ensemble to their program offerings for the 2010-2011 season.
The Wind Ensemble will provide advanced opportunities for developing middle and high school woodwind, brass, and percussion musicians. Members will strengthen the basic building blocks of ensemble participation, which can help prepare them for future symphony orchestra membership. The Wind Ensemble will be conducted by Albert Montecalvo. Mr Montecalvo was director of middle school and high school bands as well as K-12 Director of Music in the Carmel School District for many years. He was also an adjunct music professor at Western Connecticut State University and for the past nine years has been Director of the Summer Band Program for the Danbury Music Centre. During the 2008-2009 school year he was interim band director at Ridgefield High School and for the last seven years he has conducted the musicals at Ridgefield High School.
By Gina D. Wilson
The Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra (WCYO), now in its 7th season, performed at Avery Fisher Hall on December 2, 2008 at the invitation of New York-based “Perform America.” This organization invites talented musical groups from the tri-state area to present concerts in famous venues in Manhattan. In 2007, the youth orchestra, then known as the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra, performed at Carnegie Hall.
The WCYO, under the baton of Music Director Petko Dimitrov, performed Rimsky- Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol,” which featured Redding members Jason Fenwick, violin, Lauren Fenningdorf, clarinet, Fallon Murphy, flute and piccolo, Glen Ullman, viola, Charlotte Ullman, cello, and Heather Wexler, violin. The orchestra’s performance was met with a standing ovation.
By Anne Dolan
Over spring break, members of the Ridgefield Symphony Junior Orchestra (RSJO) took a trip of a lifetime. Sixteen musicians from the group and their parents traveled across the Atlantic to Sweden to perform with a choir conducted by Corrine Sahlin, sister-in-law to the RSJO’s conductor, Sue Corey-Sahlin
During the week, the group visited a gigantic cathedral in Uppsala, listened in on a rehearsal from the Stockholm Philharmonic, spent a day at a Swedish school, and went to a Viking Village. They also explored the small island of Singö, and went to the Vasa Museum, which is a recovered sunken ship, where they had a chance run-in with the King and Queen of Sweden! When they weren’t touring the beautiful country, the orchestra was practicing with the chorus, Singö Sång (all who could speak English) and forming friendships through music. “Sweden was great! I made a lot of Swedish friends and the music that we produced there was AWESOME,” said Madi Bouissou, a cellist in the Junior Orchestra.
Fortunately, by the end of the week the two performing groups only had to say goodbye temporarily. The choir will be coming to America in early June to sing at the Garden Party, the annual event held at Bernard’s Restaurant for both the Ridgefield Symphony Youth and Junior Orchestras. The bonds formed during this cultural exchange show, that despite language barriers, cultural differences, and thousands of miles, music can bring people together.
By Nick Heinzman
Most students spend spring break in exotic locations with their families or sleeping in late and hanging with their friends. I got to spend my spring break touring Austria, learning about Mozart, Strauss and Haydn and playing benefit concerts to raise money for European children’s charities. Thirty-five musicians thirteen to nineteen, including three Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra (RSYO) alumni filling in trumpet, oboe and bassoon parts, along with 14 dedicated adult chaperones, our tour guide, Stephano Macchi, and our conductor, Petko Dimitrov, had the exciting opportunity to tour Austria for seven days. We began the journey with a bus ride to JFK, a long Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, a five-hour layover in Germany, and, finally, a short flight to Vienna.
Jet-lagged, we made our way to the bus with our luggage and our instruments. The warm Viennese sun was barely enough to keep the orchestra awake on the ride to the hotel, but Stefano kindly reminded us “sleeping will only make it worse.” Nevertheless, we persevered through check-in and a short walking tour by St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The rest of the night was spent walking off our grogginess (the gelato helped a little), and touring the Viennese House of Music. The House of Music is an interactive museum that chronicles musical history from the renaissance to modern composers. Some exhibits explored the abilities of sound as well as what we may able to do with sound in the future. The highlight of the museum, however, was an interactive exhibit that allowed you to attempt to conduct a virtual Vienna Philharmonic. Several of the orchestra members took up the baton in fruitless efforts, all of which resulted in incredulous Austrian musicians yelling at the stand-in conductors in angry German.
If there was one thing we could ask for on this trip, it would have been more sleep. After receiving an early wake up call, we dragged ourselves down to the breakfast buffet then got on the bus for a two-hour drive to Graz. Despite the lack of sleep, everyone was able to appreciate Graz as the beautiful city that it was. The city was centered on a lively and beautiful square, with several gardens and rock landscapes. The beginning of the day was spent learning about the city. The tour ended in front of an old fortress on a tall rock face. At first glace, all we could see was the fortress at the top and the endless staircases that traversed the side of the mountain. “And this is where your concert will be tonight,” said Stefano. We actually played inside the mountain: a dome shaped where we performed the first of our three concerts. That successful performance was only a prelude of what was to come.
When we unloaded the bus the following day at Eisenstadt, we were hopeful for a fun day. We got that: exploring the castle where Haydn worked and performed was an interesting experience-especially for those who think seven string cellos are cool. The best part of the Haydn museum was Haydn Hall, an acoustic masterpiece in which we preformed later that night. When we first came into the hall, a choir was rehearsing, and as we sat watching, we anticipated our concert that night, hoping to play even better than we had the night before. As we walked with confidence onto the stage, we were pleased with the larger crowd, and even more pleased with our performance. After our concert at Haydn Hall, we knew that we had just played the best we could, and we knew that this could have only happened in Vienna.
Two mornings later, we all prepared for yet another bus ride, but by this time we were all used to it. Salzburg was the farthest destination we traveled from Vienna, so far that we acutally decided to sleep there instead of returning to the city. Compared to Vienna, Salzburg seemed like a small village in the country rather than another Austrain city. After checking into our new hotel, we made our way to the hall where we would rehearse and later play our final concert. Four of us, however, decided to take a side trip. On a sheer whim, the RSYO quartet (Queenie Chan, Gabrielle Bouissou, Annie Wang, and me) went to the Cathedral Square and, after bribing a local group to take a break, played in the streets of Salzburg. While the impromptu performance was shaky, mostly due to the windy day blowing our music away, it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip (we even made a few Euros). After our fifty seconds of fame and a lesson learned (street performers must memorize music for fear of high winds) we made our way to our rehearsal. We entered the enourmous hall, which had elaborate scenes painted on the ceiling and was lined with gold, to the sound of a booming orchestra. Of all of the performances, this one was the most difficult to accomplish due to the accoustics. The ceilings of the hall were extremely tall, and as Petko said, “when you hit a note, it rings for five minutes in this place.” And that’s how we spent our afternoon: adjusting everything to fit the new acoustics. It was a challenging task, but when we stuck the first chord of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, we all knew that the sound we had created was beautiful but controlled music. We all knew throughout that concert that we had played the best we could have played. At the same time, it was dissapointing, because as we played the final notes of our encore, Copland’s “Hoe-Down,” we realized that we were done. And even though the final chord bounced off the walls for only a few minutes, we all still remember every moment of those performances; they were truly once in a lifetime experiences.
That is, in a nutshell, the spring break of thirty five teenage musicians. It is difficult to understand the magnitude of what we actually did: not many people get to visit Austria in their lifetime, let alone play concerts in some of the most musical places in the world. The concerts the RSYO played were all to benefit European charities; the three we raised money for were the Styrian Children’s Cancer Association, Save the Children (for children in foster care), and the Children’s Cancer Association, the third of which was a unique charity that raised money so that children could receive treatment and spend their recoveries at home or in a place they were familiar with instead of at the hospital.
The orchestra would also like to thank the chaperones, who watched over us throughout the tour, even though they surely could have found more entertaining things to do in such a beautiful country, and the generous people of Ridgefield and surrounding towns who help us raise much needed funds to make this trip possible. Our orchestra will perform with the Ridgefield Symphony Junior Orchestra on May 20 at Bernard’s Restaurant. Please consider coming to hear us as we strive to create our best performace of the year.
Finally, much applause was given to the orchestra, but someone who seldom receives applause is Gina Wilson, the co-founder of the RSYO. Mrs. Wilson should know that the orchestra deeply appreciates all she has done for them and that because of her, we were able to have such an amazing educational and cultural experience.
By Jan Stribula
Special to the News Times
With special singers, dancers, and the debut screening of their promotional video, Music Director Petko Dimitrov led the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra in an action packed program at East Ridge Middle School last Sunday afternoon.
The 40 or so members of the RSYO have really been on a roll lately, playing at a Connecticut Youth Orchestra Festival at Yale and at Carnegie Hall last month. Later this month they fly to Vienna to perform in a series of concerts there. I wish I could go along for the ride, as I’m sure they’ll have some incredibly enriching experiences in the classical music capital of the world.
Their new video was shown as a prelude to the concert, and emphasized the cultural value for the community that the RSYO has been providing for the last five years. The RSYO gives aspiring performers a supportive environment where their music making skills are developed while delivering entertainment for concertgoers in the area. It’s a win-win situation for all of us. RSYO founder and President Gina Wilson happily introduced the various organizations involved with the collaborative effort.
Dimitrov explained that the program would feature music for a wide range of dance styles, with and without actual dancers onstage. They opened with something to get up and dance to, jumping into action with “Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, No. 8” by Antonin Dvorak (1841 “” 1904). With alternating lightness from the woodwinds contrasting with percussive eruptions from the entire ensemble, they got into the Slavic spirit nicely.
About 30 adult members of The Ridgefield Chorale joined the RSYO for the lovely “Pavane” by Gabriel Faure (1845 “” 1924). The flute had an enchanting elegance, with the rarely performed optional choir filling out the piece with haunting harmonies. The ensemble was not consistent in the somewhat challenging tonalities of this French funeral march.
With “Hungarian Dance No. 1” by Johannes Brahms (1833 “” 1897), Dimitrov used varying tempos to develop dramatic contrasts in this lively dance. Violins blended into the melodic flow of the rich orchestration for the gypsy theme. Everyone got to whoop it up in “Hoe Down” from “Rodeo” by Aaron Copland (1900 “” 1990), with its catchy rhythm.
Following intermission they performed “Symphony No. 104 in D Major,” the last symphony written by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 “” 1809). Dimitrov had been dancing by himself up to this point in the concert, but in the menuetto movement, five members of Art of Dance studio, Lily Estabrook, Kelsey Pommer, Hanna Ringel, Dona Wiley and Catherine Wright, joined him. With their toe dancing and twirling, the ballerinas added another dimension to the music. Haydn’s symphony lent itself well to the combined talents of all onstage. All in all, it was a splendid collaboration of singers, dancers and youthful musicians.
Pianist Alpin Hong to Perform at Benefit for Youth Orchestra
By Eric Rubury
The Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra is hosting a benefit concert with pianist Alpin Hong on Sunday, November 5, at 4 p.m. at Veteran’s Park School Auditorium. All proceeds of the concert will support the Youth Orchestra’s Austria tour in April 2007. The concert event will include solo works performed by Mr. Hong, as well as ensemble performances by Mr. Hong and members of the Youth Orchestra.
Mr. Hong, a native of Michigan, made his orchestral debut with the Kalamazoo Symphony at the age of ten. He is the winner of a number of prestigious competitions, including the Stravinsky Piano Competition and the Los Angeles Spotlight Awards Competition. Currently a resident of New York and with a Master’s degree from The Juilliard School, his recent accomplishments include include the 50th anniversary celebration of Merkin Concert Hall; recitals at Los Angeles’ Wilshire Ebell Theatre and Royce Hall at UCLA; Purdue University Convocations in Lafayette, Indiana; the Frick Arts Centre in Pittsburgh; the Kansas City Friends of Chamber Music; Market Square Concerts in Pennsylvania and concertos with Orchestra X in Houston. He is also the recipient of McGraw-Hill’s 2005 Robert Sherman Award for Music Education and Community Outreach. Mr. Hong’s 2005 solo CD, which universally received glowing reviews, features works by Scarlatti, Brahms, Debussy and Stravinsky.
In addition to its series of concert performances in Vienna, Salzburg, and Gratz, Austria in 2007, the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra will present concerts on Sunday, December 3, 2006 at the Ridgefield High School Auditorium and at East Ridge Middle School Auditorium on Sunday April 1, 2007. In March, the Youth Orchestra will attend the first Connecticut Youth Orchestra festival in New Haven. The fourth annual Garden Party will be held at Bernard’s in Ridgefield on May 20, 2007. In addition, a CD of the Youth Orchestra’s performances in the 2005-06 season will be released in December.
Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra Begins 5th Season With New Conductor
By Eric Rubury
As it begins its fifth year as a full concert orchestra, the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra has announced the appointment of Petko Dimitrov as Music Director for the 2006 – 2007 season. A native of Bulgaria, Mr. Dimitrov is a 2000 graduate of the State Academy of Music in Sofia, the nation’s capital. He made his conducting debut with the New Symphony Orchestra in Sofia in 1998, and has since been an assistant conductor of the Orchestra. In 2004 he completed his Master’s Degree in Orchestra Conducting at the University of Michigan. Mr. Dimitrov recently received his Graduate Performance Diploma in Orchestral Conducting from the Peabody Conservatory at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is an assistant conductor of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra and works on a regular basis with the Peabody Conductor’s Orchestra. Mr. Dimitrov is also Assistant Conductor for the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra.
The Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra has 43 auditioned musicians between grades eight and twelve from Ridgefield and 9 neighboring towns. In addition to its Fall and Winter concert schedule, members of the Orchestra are active in various music and arts programs at area nursery and elementary schools. The Orchestra recently completed its intensive annual weekend at Frost Valley, a retreat complex in the Catskill Mountains, in preparation for its upcoming concert season. During the previous four seasons, the Orchestra has performed 14 concerts, including several in Paris, has hosted collaborative efforts with area schools, and has organized annual benefit performances.
The 2006 – 2007 season promises to be equally active, with a fundraising benefit performance by pianist Alpin Hong and members of the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra on November 5, 2006. The first concert by the Orchestra will take place on Sunday, December 3, 2006 at the Ridgefield High School Auditorium. In March the Orchestra will attend the first Connecticut Youth Orchestra festival in New Haven. The Spring program includes a concert at East Ridge Middle School Auditorium on Sunday, April 1, 2007, and performances in Vienna, Salzburg, and Gratz, Austria in the Spring of 2007. A CD of the Orchestra’s performances in the 2005-06 season will be released in December.
Marking its second year, the Ridgefield Symphony Junior Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Suzanne Corey-Sahlin, is composed of 29 auditioned musicians in grades four through eight from Ridgefield and 8 neighboring towns. The Junior Orchestra’s season will include performances on December 3, 2006 and April 1, 2007. Both orchestras will present the fourth annual Garden Party at Bernard’s in Ridgefield on May 20, 2007.
RSYO and RSJO Concert: March 2006
By Emilie Sweigart
On Sunday, March 5, 2006, the RSYO and RSJO performed their second concert of the 2005-2006 season at the Ridgefield Playhouse. The first group to play was a string trio, with Gabrielle and Brianna Fischler on violin and Sophie Feinberg on cello. The trio skillfully performed Haydn’s challenging Trio No. 3 in G Major. Next to perform was the RSJO, which has made significant progress under the direction of conductor Sue Corey since its formation in September 2005. The RSJO played Concerto #2 for Piano and Strings by Berkovich, with soloist Jessica Deng on piano. Jessica is nine years old, lives in Stamford and has won many national and international awards for her playing. The RSJO followed with Dragonhunter by Richard Meyer and an arrangement of Carillon by Georges Bizet.
Following the intermission, the RSYO took the stage, beginning with the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, a piece with a familiar melody and characteristically intricate rhythms. The group also played the Karelia Suite, Op. 11 by Sibelius, a strongly nationalistic piece that promoted the culture of Sibelius’ homeland, Finland. Speaking about the piece before conducting it, conductor Ankush Bahl noted its prevalent Nordic themes, such as its musical depictions of snow and ice. Transitioning from Finnish to American music, the RSYO also performed Quiet City by Aaron Copland, which showcased soloists Erica Clayton on oboe and Garrett Schumann on trumpet. The RSYO finished the concert with the energetic Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harp) by Schubert.
Both groups are looking forward to performing at the RSYO Garden Party at Bernard’s Restaurant in Ridgefield on Sunday, May 21, the last concert of their 2005-2006 season.
The Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra Debuts in Paris
By Sabina Slavin
On Sunday, April 24, 2005 at about 12:30 we returned to East Ridge Middle School – almost one week to the minute since our departure for Paris. There were 35 young musicians – in grades 6 through 12 – on the bus, in addition to 13 adults and the children of Gina and Mike Wilson. We traveled to Paris on Air France on April 17th and Ankush Kumar Bahl, the Music Director of the Youth Orchestra, met us there. We were also joined by Hannes Schraft, who had been in the Youth Orchestra prior to his return to Switzerland last year – a group of 52 altogether.
We were met in Paris at 6 am on April 18th by our guardian angel – Sara Perry. Sara was our guide for the entire trip and she worked tirelessly to ensure that we all enjoyed ourselves and that the scheduled concerts took place. The trip was arranged by Encore Tours, a division of ACIS. And there were many bumps in the road – not the least of which was traveling with 6 celli and a bass violin in huge cases!
There were many wonderful opportunities to visit the glories of Paris and its environs. We had a tour of the city, visits to Chartres Cathedral, the Palace and Gardens of Versailles, the Musee d’Orsay and the Musee de Louvre and a tour of the Palais Garnier. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower on a beautiful night with a moon that was almost full, and took a dinner cruise on the Seine one evening. We toured Montmartre and the area around the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We also attended a Bach violin concert in the glorious Sainte Chapelle. But the purpose of the trip was for the Youth Orchestra to perform – and perform they did!
There were three concerts scheduled. The first was at the Eglise de la Trinite on Thursday, April 21st and the second at the Eglise de la Madeline on Friday, April 22nd. Both concerts had been publicized in Pariscope, a weekly publication that lists all of the events occurring in Paris. In fact, these concerts were the first listings under classical music for each of those days. We saw many people in the audience who were carrying the publication and had come because they had seen the listing.
The program was similar on both days. The concert began with a performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F, Opus 18, No. 1, played by Concertmaster Andrew Boyd, and violinist Justin Stone, violist Emilie Sweigart and cellist James Peraino. The full orchestra then played the Finale from the Eighth Symphony of Dvorak, the Adagio for Strings by Barber and the First Movement of the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven. The rest of the program varied a little on the two days and included the Overture to The Magic Flute by Mozart, Amazing Grace and Panis Angelicus by Franck with Sean Sutherland singing the solo part.
There were about 200 people at the concert at the Trinite Church and about 400 at the Madeline. They responded very enthusiastically to the performances! One couple from Wisconsin came to us and told us that the concert made them proud to be Americans. Some French attendees told us that they first thought that the Orchestra was British because they were so well dressed and played so well. They were very impressed to learn that these young musicians were Americans!
On Saturday, we visited the Lycee Condorcet for a joint concert with a community orchestra under the direction of Sylvain Audino. The original plan was for each orchestra to play alone and then to play one or two compositions jointly. However, Maestro Bahl and Maestro Audino decided that both orchestras would play everything – that meant that all of the musicians would be sight-reading the music that they had never rehearsed! The result was magnificent! All of the musicians distinguished themselves. In addition to many of the pieces listed above, the overtures to The Barber of Seville by Rossini and Carmen by Bizet were played. A chorus joined the orchestras for the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore by Verdi, and the Humming Song from Madama Butterfly by Puccini. They concluded the performance with a selection from La Traviata by Verdi with a soprano solo by the co-director of the Lycee.
There were about 100 people in the audience and this concert was a wonderful bridge between the two countries. Our hosts prepared a luncheon buffet for everyone after the concert. We presented all of the French musicians with a copy of the cd that the Youth Orchestra made last year. We also gave a baton and a teddy bear with a chocolate Eiffel Tower to Sylvain Audino. The youth orchestra members had sold these teddy bears to raise money for the trip.
This trip was a wonderful experience for all of the young musicians and the adults who were privileged to accompany them. The young people were marvelous ambassadors for their parents, their communities, their schools and themselves. Their behavior was exemplary and their music making was superb. It was a joy to be with them! Where shall we go next?
The RSYO’s First Concert of the 2004-2005 Season
By Nyanza Rothman
The Ridgefield Playhouse kindly donated its space for our first concert of the season on November 14, 2004. Appropriately named “Have a Taste,” the concert was preceded by a French-style breakfast hosted in the lobby and provided by Bernard’s Restaurant of Ridgefield. The fare included croissants, pastries, and crepes, to set the theme of our trip to Paris next April.
After the breakfast, the concert began with excerpts from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt- Suite No.1, Opus 46. The soft and airy first movement, entitled “Morning,” continued the morning mood. Then, the fast-paced and at times frantic fourth movement, “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” greatly contrasted the peaceful first movement.
Next, the Parisian theme was continued in French composer Georges Bizet’s L’Arlésienne from Suite No. 1. Although excerpts of the piece were performed at the RSYO’s April 2004 concert, for this concert, the piece was performed in its entirety. As Ankush told the audience, the piece is written about a man who cannot have a woman he deeply loves. While some movements are dark and bitter, others, such as the final movement “Carillon” are upbeat and calm. The differing moods truly capture the man’s distress.
Our final piece was W.A. Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture, K.620. Prior to the concert, the orchestra watched the movie “Amadeus,” a partly fictionalized tale about Mozart’s life, the Overture from “The Magic Flute” is featured. Watching the movie helped us to capture the chaotic, frenzied mood of the piece and perhaps infer how the composer may have come to write the work.
The RSYO thanks the Ridgefield Playhouse, Sarah and Bernard Bouissou of Bernard’s Restaurant, and all our sponsors for generously contributing to our concert and to our 2004-2005 season.
Frost Valley October 2004
The RSYO musicians stayed at the Frost Valley YMCA in Claryville, NY for a weekend of rehearsing, fun, and bonding from October 22-24, 2004. On the first night at Frost Valley, Ankush introduced us to five of his fellow professional musicians and friends who would be leading sectionals and playing with us in joint rehearsals for the weekend. The two violinists, a violist, a cellist, and a basoonist were all Manhattan School of Music graduates like Ankush. That night we had a short rehearsal and sight-read some challenging new pieces such as Barber’s Suite for Strings and selections from Bizet’s L’Arlésienne suite. The evening concluded with roasting marshmallows over the fireplace in our rehearsal room, making smores, and watching excerpts from the movie Amadeus.
After an early breakfast Saturday morning, the orchestra rehearsed from 9:30 until noon, with the professionals leading the sections. After a break for lunch, the first violins, violas, and winds had two hour sectionals with their respective leaders. The other musicians had two hours of leisure time to carve pumpkins, go for a hike out in the chilly fall air and colorful foliage, bake sugar cookies in the dining hall, or catch up on some homework. After the time was up, the other half of the orchestra (cellos, basses, and second violins) met for sectionals and the others participated in the activities. By dinnertime, everyone knew bowings, fingerings, pitches, and rhythms much better and was thoroughly worn out. After dinner, we rehearsed together as a group again for another two hours. Then most of the orchestra visited the camp’s haunted house (well, haunted woods, to be precise). The woods got “scarier” each half hour, but even those that went to the latest showing at 9:30 claimed they weren’t scared the least bit. The long day ended with a campfire near our cabins.
On Sunday, we left for home soon after breakfast, and completed our viewing of Amadeus on the bus. We were all exhausted, but in good spirits. Not only did the retreat offer a great opportunity to rehearse with and get advice from professional musicians, but it also provided the chance to get to know all the members of the orchestra better. We look forward to another Frost Valley trip next year.
Piano Concert to Fund RSYO Paris Trip
By Emilie Sweigart
Acclaimed concert pianist Rui Shi will be giving a concert at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Friday, September 17, 2004. She is generously donating her time and effort to give a concert in which all the proceeds will go directly to funding the RSYO’s trip to Paris in April. Rui Shi, currently in the master’s program at The Juilliard School, frequently performs with the RSO, and will perform this season with the London and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras as well as the Cleveland, Boston, and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestras. The concert on September 17th will start at 8 p.m., and tickets cost from $45, $35, and $25 each. Tickets can be purchased from the RSO by calling 203-438-3889. All RSYO members are required to attend, free of charge, to serve as ushers and help sell raffle tickets and RSYO CDs before and after the concert, as well as during intermission. The concert is sure to be great, so please let your friends and families know about the event.
Vision gives rise to an Orchestra
By George Leeman
Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra
The Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra, which will give its next concert on Sunday, April 25, exists because of the extraordinary efforts of two Ridgefielders, Gina Wilson and Carrie Moore. Less than two years old, the youth orchestra played to rave reviews at its two previous concerts.
Next month, the youth orchestra will have its first fund-raiser, Sunday, May 23, at Bernard’s Inn, which will include a performance and a reception.
Ms. Wilson and Ms. Moore met at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ridgefield, and they and their families became good friends. Both mothers took an interest in the schools, and they saw many children excited about music. In December, 2001, they began talking about a youth orchestra.
The notion of a youth orchestra based in Ridgefield was not new. In the early 1970s Charles Spire, a music teacher at the high school, formed the Ridgefield Youth Orchestra, an auditioned group, which included children in grades 3-12 from Ridgefield and nearby towns. They played an annual spring concert with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra (RSO) for many years. The Youth Orchestra essentially dissolved when Spire retired in 1990.
The two women had a fundamental idea: a youth orchestra tightly integrated with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra. When Ms. Wilson, Ms. Moore, Sabina Slavin (RSO President) and Sidney Rothstein (RSO music director) had a meeting in early 2002, its most important conclusion was that the RSO assistant conductor should be music director of the youth orchestra.
This simple assumption was a double win. On one hand, the youth orchestra would have continuity, no dependence on a single individual, and credibility via an alliance with a high quality professional group. On the other hand, the RSO assistant conductor position would be enriched by requiring independent musical programming and conducting, the skills any conductor strives to improve. Ms. Slavin and Mr. Rothstein agreed that if Ms. Wilson and Ms. Moore could recruit players, find rehearsal space, and raise some money, then the RSO would provide its assistant conductor.
Steps toward creation
The two women faced a big challenge. They set aside time each Monday morning to brainstorm, and they enlisted the help of others. In February they met to discuss funding with Mary Doidge, who had done development work for the Ridgefield Symphony. They organized a small meeting at the Ridgefield Library in March, which included parents and music teachers. In April, with Ms. Doidge’s help, they met with the Ridgefield Symphony music committee, which recommended a feasibility study. In April and May they organized a survey in the middle school, and there was an enthusiastic response, with about 80 children interested. They spent hours researching foundations, to avoid conflicting with those aiding the Ridgefield Symphony. The first seed money that spring was a $1000 grant from Purdue Pharma. Meanwhile, the Ridgefield Symphony hired as assistant conductor Jonathan Schiffman, who came with impressive credentials. He was an accomplished cellist, starting at age five, and he graduated from Yale, where he had edited Stravinsky’s last work, Four Preludes and Fugues, and conducted its world premiere. He was working on a masters in conducting at Juilliard.
The big break came in late summer, when Ms. Wilson and Ms. Moore received a $5000 commitment from the Weinstein Foundation. They presented their results at the September Ridgefield Symphony board meeting, and the RSO gave its approval. The Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra was born.
The RSYO in Action
In October the formation of the youth orchestra was announced and applications went to all schools in and near Ridgefield. Auditions followed, with Schiffman and several of the Ridgefield Symphony’s principal players as judges; only 22 of 60 applicants were admitted. Rehearsals began January, 2003, and a few more auditions increased the orchestra to 25. Mr. Schiffman had exceptional rapport with the children.
In that first season, the two founders organized a trip for youth orchestra participants and families to New York City to hear the New York Philharmonic and visit with musicians afterward. Finally, the group’s first concert took place on May 4. Critic Courtenay Caublé said, “No other musical event in Ridgefield’s musical season . earned louder bravos or more enthusiastic standing ovations . .”
Shortly after the concert Mr. Schiffman received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in France. The Ridgefield Symphony auditioned six candidates for assistant conductor, and youth orchestra members’ opinions were an integral part of the evaluations. The winner was Ankush Bahl, with a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s from the Manhattan School of Music. Mr. Bahl had studied many instruments and had experience conducting both youth and professional orchestras.
In September, all the young musicians had to re-audition and with new recruits, the orchestra grew to 49 players from six towns. As with its premiere performance, its January, 2004 concert met with critical acclaim.
Ms. Wilson and Ms. Moore continue to work to improve the youth orchestra: one of their suggestions was to have a few rehearsals run by the Ridgefield Symphony principal musicians. They work with small ensembles, providing a meaningful mentoring relationship. The Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra is a thriving unit, providing fun and growth for all its participants. And behind the scenes, its founders perform any task required to keep it that way.
Ms. Slavin said, “The Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra was something I had wanted for a long time. Sidney and I provided encouragement, but Gina and Carrie did all the work.” At the June, 2003 Ridgefield Symphony annual meeting, Mr. Rothstein said, “The formation was the most significant accomplishment of the 2002-2003 season.”
Ms. Wilson and Ms. Moore said, “Sabina’s continual encouragement and help were crucial. She later got the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra a $7500 grant, more than we had raised!”
Life before Ridgefield
Gina Wilson was raised in Hawthorne, N.J. She started piano at age five and was an active accompanist in high school. She majored in sociology at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where she accompanied choirs, played the organ, and gave solo recitals; she also met Michael Wilson there. She continued in law school at Hofstra, married Michael in 1986, and completed her law degree in California. They subsequently returned to Pennsylvania. When her husband’s company headquarters moved to Greenwich in 1992, they relocated to Ridgefield. They have a daughter and a son, ages 14 and 12.
Carrie Moore grew up in Louisville, Ky. She majored in art at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, and said a semester abroad in London opened her eyes to the thrill of big cities. She transferred to Pratt Institute and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts. She later earned a master of fine arts from Columbia. She married James Moore in 1986, and they moved to Ridgefield in 1991. They have three girls, ages 14, 12, and 9.
Author’s Note: Two intelligent and talented women had a vision. They provided the analytical thinking and hard work to make the vision a reality. They did so with no thought of personal gain, other than the satisfaction of creating something worthwhile for many people. In fact, no Wilson or Moore child has ever been in the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra. Gina Wilson and Carrie Moore continue to give much time to ensure the success of the organization. Their deeds tell a wonderful story, and only the beginning has been written.
RSYO’s 2004 Winter Concert, January 25, 2004
By Emilie Sweigart
Our Sunday, January 25th, 2004 concert was a concert of firsts. It was our first concert of the 2003-2004 season and our first ever winter concert. It took place at a new venue for us, Veteran’s Park Elementary School in Ridgefield.
It was also the first concert with our new members, as we have nearly doubled in size since last season, not to mention the first concert with our new conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl.
The concert originally was supposed to take place on December 14, 2003, but due to snowy weather, it was rescheduled. The extra month wasn’t necessary to prepare for the concert, but we took advantage of the extra time to further improve our repertoire.
The concert began with the entire orchestra playing Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D Major, “London,” 1st Movement, followed by a selection from the Orion Wind Trio.
The orchestra then returned to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, Allegretto. Following a brief intermission, the orchestra played “The Unanswered Question, ” a modern piece composed by Danbury native Charles Ives. It is a piece that attempts to answer the perennial question, “What is the meaning of life?” The audience had quite varied reactions to this piece, which featured the strings of the orchestra playing a drone with the wind instruments performing a loud, raucous cacophony. Since the Ives piece requires two conductors, Ankush conducted the winds, while Ridgefield High School senior Jim Marrone conducted the strings.
Next the RSYO String Quartet, composed of the RSYO string principals, played Mozart’s Quartet in G Major, K 387, 1st quartet.
The final piece of the concert was Aaron Copland’s melodious Music from ” Appalachian Spring,” featuring Jim Marrone again as guest pianist.
The orchestra thanks co-founders Gina Wilson and Carrie Moore for another great job organizing the concert, as well as the RSYO parents who contributed their time. Thanks also to Jim Marrone for conducting and playing piano in the Copland piece.
RIDGEFIELD SYMPHONY YOUTH ORCHESTRA – Sunday, May 4, 2003
By Courtenay Caublé
No other musical event in Ridgefield’s musical season has earned louder bravos or more enthusiastic standing ovations than last Sunday afternoon’s debut concert by the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra at the Ridgefield Playhouse. Presented as part of the Playhouse’s Community Access Program and sponsored in part by the First Union Foundation, the Weinstein Foundation, Purdue Pharma, Inc., and the Ridgefield Lyons Club, twenty-five musically talented youngsters chosen from twice that many original audition applicants, performed a challenging program of works by Vivaldi, J. S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Bartok.
Jonathan Schiffman, who has served this year both as the Ridgefield Symphony’s Assistant Conductor and as the Youth Orchestra’s inaugural Music Director, spoke glowingly about the youngsters’ great enthusiasm for music that has both motivated their hard work and dedication and inspired the formation of a “resident” string quartet that promises to be only the first of several such smaller associated chamber groups.
But both Maestro Schiffman’s musical acumen and his patently contagious enthusiasm and involvement have played their part too. The young ensemble’s fine stage presence and discipline (as well as the quality of their musical preparation) are testimony both to his competent leadership and to the young musicians’ affection and respect for him. Happily for him but less so for us, he has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for further musical study in France next year. RSO Maestro Sidney Rothstein promises a worthy replacement, but Mr. Schiffman’s act will be a hard one to follow.
Additional kudos are also due. Mr. Schiffman’s own arrangement of the first movement of “Spring” from Vivaldi’s “Seasons” worked beautifully, with sparkling incidental solo flourishes by Concertmaster Andrew Boyd. All three of the orchestra’s flutists (Christie Ashway, Rachel Poitier, and Andrea Reinhardt) disported themselves commendably in unison in selections from Bach’s Suite in B minor for Flute and Strings. The String Quartet – Andrew Boyd and Justin Stone (violins), Stephanie Thoensen (viola), and Mr. Schiffman (cello) – did a fine job, particularly in the selection from Beethoven’s Quartet in C minor, Op. 18 No. 4, played with somewhat more phrase definition and authority than in their playing of the first movement of Mozart’s Quartet in C Major, K. 157. The handsome sibling team of Andrea Reinhardt (flute) and Jeffery Reinhardt (oboe) were both unflappable and musical (especially in their duo cadenza) in two movements from Haydn’s Concerto in G Major for Flute and Oboe. And Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances were a rousing finale, meriting the repetition of the most rousing one as an encore.
Last but by no means least, both kudos and thanks must go to the RSYO’s co-founders, Gina D. Wilson and Carrie A. Moore, for the vision and follow-through.