Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A View from the Stage: Progress in Philharmonia

(This week's guest blogger is Adam Brown, Fox Valley Symphony Youth Orchestra's Philharmonia conductor.)

This is my third year as conductor of the Philharmonia, and each year has offered its own unique combination of successes, challenges, and opportunities for the students to grow as an orchestra. When I first entered the position in late spring 2012, the students had already gone through their auditions and I hadn’t met or heard them (beyond the ones who were there for my interview, many of whom were in the previous year’s ensemble). I had to rely on Greg Austin’s (Concert Orchestra conductor) experience listening to them try out, as well as his experience with the Philharmonia-level repertoire, to help me prepare for the early fall retreat and the first concert. Greg was, and continues to be, a tremendous resource of expertise and insight into the past performances of pieces in the FVSO library. By around the time the students were preparing for their spring “mini-tour,” I was finally starting to feel like I knew what I was doing, more or less! I also knew from my years of teaching that I would soon have to start from scratch, listening to many new members auditioning in (or up, to Concert Orchestra). It was a bittersweet time, offering congratulations and well wishes for good auditions that, if successful, would mean that I would no longer be working with those students.

For the second year, I wanted to build on what I saw as a successful first year while offering some different experiences, especially for students who had been in Philharmonia the year before. I tried to offer more solo opportunities, and watched students step up to leadership roles as they challenged themselves to learn these. I also programmed a piece by a living American composer (Magen Miller Frasier), and made the bold statement that the orchestra could do a “distance rehearsal” using software like Skype, even before I had tried to contact the composer! Thankfully, she was very generous with her time and praise of the students, and even requested permission to put their performance of her piece on her website. It was a great moment for the students to have a direct connection with the music-making process that I hope they always remember.

As this year began with the auditions, I was stuck by two things: how the orchestra overall seemed a bit younger, and how incredibly violin-heavy it was! This presented a challenge selecting repertoire that I thought would complement the sounds and strengths of the other sections, while also being appropriately difficult and different from the previous years. For the first time, I chose pieces that feature guest percussionists, a role that has been graciously filled by members of the Youth Orchestra percussion section. I’ve also seen the smaller viola, cello, and bass sections rise to the occasion and play with a strong, confident sound that allows for better balance. 

On days when the orchestra has sectionals (three times for each concert cycle), I move from room to room to hear how everyone works together, and I have been continually impressed with the maturity and work ethic the students have shown. The coaches have expressed this much as well, and have appreciated how much is able to be accomplished. I feel like all the hard work and progress is helping make this first concert of the 2014-2015 season become even more polished and excellent-sounding than the past two years!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A View from the Stage: Collaborative Education

(Written by guest blogger Nancy Kaphaem, Cellist for Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and FVSO Education Quartet)

One of the best things that I get to do as a professional cellist and teacher is to play with the Fox Valley Symphony's Artistic Adventures education program for elementary age children.  Collaborating this year with the Trout Museum and the Fox Cities PAC was fantastic.  To consider that a string quartet this fall played in 22 up-close performances for over 700 children total is astounding and incredibly meaningful.  

Experiencing live music can lead to deeper understanding, joy, and a rich emotional range that is beyond words.  I am so privileged to work with other enthusiastic members of the Fox Valley Symphony in this educational outreach and in all of our symphonic concerts.  

Every year I cherish these rich times that bring for all of us, performers, students and our symphonic audience at the PAC alike, priceless experiences of community and deep connection. 

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” 
― Khalil Gibran

“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” 
― Leonard Bernstein

Monday, October 27, 2014

A View from the Stage: Our Orchestral Family

(written by guest blogger Bruce Atwell, Principal Horn, FVSO)

I have been the principal French horn of the Fox Valley Symphony since 1998. Over the course of those 16 years I have witnessed amazing artistic growth of the orchestra. The Fox Valley now has one of the premier orchestras in the state, something to be very proud of as a community. 

The players come from all walks of life, many are full time professional musicians and many have day jobs but the commitment to music making and to preserving this beautiful art form is universal. This is more than a collection of musicians; it is a family that comes together to present the incredible repertoire of the symphony orchestra to the community. I have seen the response from the audience to our concerts-you can feel the pride and love that is transferred from musicians to audience and back-there really is nothing else like it.

As the musician representative on the board of directors, I am particularly struck by the dedication of the board members who support and run this fine orchestra. I have been an orchestral musician for over 30 years and I have never seen a more committed, caring, and passionate board of directors and staff. 

The Fox Valley must protect and preserve this incredible asset. It should be a point of pride for everyone who lives here. When a community cares about art it creates a wonderful place to live and work.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A View from the Stage: Heid Music and our Dream Set of Timpani

Our guest blogger this week is Paul Ristau, principal timpanist with the Fox Valley Symphony. Paul tells us a little bit about the set of timpani the FVS currently uses and how we were fortunate enough to get them:

Fox Valley Symphony is extremely fortunate to own one of the best sets of Timpani in the world, manufactured by Adams in Holland, and distributed here in the United States by Pearl Drum Co. They are known as the ‘Cloyd Duff’ model, named after the world-famous Timpanist of the Cleveland Orchestra, Cloyd Duff. I was fortunate to have studied with him in master classes. He is one of the greatest players ever.

Our set of five currently have a value of $40,000. They are some of the finest Timpani I have ever performed on, period. Years ago, I was fortunate to have worked with our Executive Director during Fox Valley Symphony's transition from performing at Lawrence University to our current home, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

At the time, I was asked to put together a “wish list" of all percussion instruments, being mindful of both quality, tonal excellence, and budget. This was for all equipment, as back then, when at Lawrence, the FVS did not own any of its own percussion equipment. So it was a pretty big deal to get it right. This initial list did not have the Adams Timpani included; as I never thought it could possibly materialize due to the cost.

Paul Heid, owner of Heid Music, called me the very next day. The symphony was working with Heid Music to order the equipment, getting the mission-critical equipment ordered first so we could start our season at the PAC. He told me he saw the list and then asked, “As Timpanist, what would be your dream set of Timpani?”

I remember it like it was yesterday. I told him "The Adams Cloyd Duff Timpani, of course.”

He replied “Done.”

I said, “What do you mean, done??”

He said he would figure out a way for this to happen…and he did. He worked his magic, as he was also President of NAMM at the time. He went above and beyond, ordered up these same Timpani, showcased them at NAMM, then brought them back to Appleton.

He gave me a call and said, “Hey Paul, your drums are in. Come on down to the store and check them out!”

I walked in the store, in the back storage room where he had them placed, removed the cover of one, saw they were the real deal and started crying. I just could not believe how someone out of the goodness of their heart, could go above and beyond in such a way. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life – and hence why I care for these drums they way I do. 

I will always remember what he did for us, and will be indebted with gratitude to him forever. It was magic.

Monday, October 6, 2014

REVIEW: Fox Valley Symphony Starts 48th Season Strong

By: James Chaudoir - Post Crescent
The Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 48th concert season with a fascinating program of challenging music. This concert also marked the beginning of Maestro Brian Groner’s 20th year as conductor.
Opening the program was a spirited performance of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s delightful “Overture to Die Fledermaus.” The overture is filled with an assortment of tunes that audiences have come to associate with the composer.
Attention was quickly turned to the feature work of the first half, “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major” by Sergei Prokofiev, featuring guest artist Claire Huangci. The youthful Huangci wowed the audience with her seemingly effortless mastery of Prokofiev’s massive and demanding opus.
The first movement opens with a simply stated yet tuneful solo by the clarinet, played eloquently by principal clarinetist David Bell. This tune quickly gives way to the strings, but the melodic serenity is suddenly ended with the arrival of the allegro section in the strings and the first entry of the solo piano. It was at this point the Ms. Huangci clearly let her presence be known.
Be it brilliant scalar passages or bursts of rhythmic energy, Huangci’s clarity of line was always at the forefront. In addition, she has the ability to skillfully execute the intricate weavings of the piano line within Prokofiev’s constantly shifting density of orchestral structure.
Two things stood out: her precise touch at the keyboard and expert blending of dynamics, a wonderful fusion of technique and artistry.
The second movement is a set of variations, which opens with the orchestra playing the main theme, a curiously witty melody first heard in the winds. The variations feature the solo piano. It is here where Prokofiev deviates from the gavotte feeling of the theme.
Huangci undoubtedly had a clear understanding of the personality of each variation and showed it in her playing, be it the gossamer trill and glissando that opens the first variation, the rapid scalar runs up and down the keyboard in the second, the wildly syncopated and angular gestures of the third, the beautiful free dialogue between piano and orchestra in the fourth or the frenetic pacing of the final. All these personalities were distinctly executed at the keyboard, making the movement all the more exciting.
The quiet ending of the second movement merges attaca to the finale, Allegro, ma non troppo. Groner’s opening tempo was quite deliberate, adhering closely to the “but not too much” advice of the tempo marking.
Unquestionably, this is the true virtuoso movement of the concerto, with multiple climaxes and a brilliant ending. It was also here where Ms. Huangci demonstrated her technical skills to the fullest.
The coda is a musical confrontation between the orchestra and soloist, with both vying for compositional importance. Huangci’s energy and concentration allowed her to handle the complex ornamentation, arpeggios, glissandos and other flourishes while cutting through the massive orchestra. Four lively chords scored for piano and orchestra together bring the concerto to a dramatic close.
Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major (Eroica)” comprised the second half of the evening’s program. As we’ve become accustomed to appreciate over the years, Groner’s vision and execution of this masterwork was complete, thought-provoking, and most of all, musical.
The opening of this symphony never ceases to put a smile on my face, two marked E-flat major chords, and a gloriously simple arpeggiation of the tonic triad … so simple, so lyrical, so Beethoven.
Groner’s tempo choice unquestionably played into the heartfelt interpretation of the opening movement. Within the orchestra, the balance of the strings was particularly notable.
The haunting, well-known funeral march theme of the second movement, Adagio assai, is first heard played by the cellos and then given to the solo oboe, played beautifully by principal oboist Jennifer Hodges-Bryan. Also present in this movement was the use of fugue-like passages in the middle section. Groner’s ideal choices of tempos and dynamics made the performance of this movement contributed to its success.
The third movement is an animated scherzo, filled with rhythmic energy, and a glorious passage of hunting calls heard in the horn section. The orchestra, and especially the horns, played expressively, paying careful attention to each of Groner’s gestures from the podium.
The finale, Allegro molto, offered another set of variations for the evening. The movement itself is quite grandiose, and shows the direction Beethoven is moving regarding importance of the symphonic finale.
Again, Groner was at his best with his conducting, just the right tempo, energy, and clear identity to each of the thematic variations. All of these elements led to the orchestra’s rendering a meaningfully expressive performance of Beethoven’s masterwork.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Welcome to Our 2014-15 Season!

Thank you so much for being part of the Fox Valley Symphony’s thrilling 2014-2015 season.  From the first notes on opening night (the sparkling and energetic Overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss) to the last notes of the finale (brought to you by Liszt’s epic tone poem Les Preludes) there will be music that inspires you.

Our orchestra is an amazing group of interesting, creative and talented people.  I hope that you find a chance to speak with some of the musicians of the FVS over the course of the season.  Each player brings something special to the sound; each player brings you their very best on every concert.  They serve both the art of music and our audience admirably.

Warmest Regards,
Brian Groner, Music Director

As I begin my tenure as president of the Board of Directors of the Fox Valley Symphony, I am very excited about this year’s concert season and am grateful for the opportunity to help bring this wonderful gift, our symphony, to you.  It is my belief that art and music are some of the sweetest fruits in life.  They touch our soul, inspire us, and bring richness to life.  

In the Fox Valley, we enjoy and celebrate a rich tradition of art and music, and our symphony is one of the biggest reasons why.  From our schools and universities to the performing arts, the symphony is weaved into the fabric of our way of life.   Our symphony and its talented musicians work with many other organizations, businesses, and people.  By supporting and cultivating local musicians and artists in our community, we are not only enhancing our own lives but the lives of our family and friends for generations to come. 

The Fox Valley Symphony is dedicated to bringing education, art, and music to this community, to the next generation, and to you, our symphony family.  We are planning many new social, educational, and fun events this year and hope to see you there.   Our symphony family includes you, and we are very thankful for your patronage and financial support.  For without it, we would not be able to touch the lives of so many.  

Peter Gianopoulos, Board President

As the season begins to take shape, I am continually amazed by the community effort involved. Our musicians spend hours of practice and rehearsal on each section, our conductor studies the score and our
technical crew plans each detail before opening night. Volunteers and staff work together to ensure everything is in place before the first note hits.

We’ve been given this incredible opportunity, and it is always met with sincere gratitude.

We are thankful for our sponsors and donors who make our season possible. We are thankful for our board members who help plan and implement our mission. We are thankful to the teachers working with music students in our community to engage future generations of artists and patrons. And we are thankful for you, who attend each concert and show your support with applause year after year as we work toward our 50th Anniversary.

Thank you,

Jamie LaFreniere, Chief Operating Officer 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Local arts groups collaborate to bring masterwork to the PAC

Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana has become a classic for musicians and audiences because of its percussive music, hypnotic melodies, lilting passages and all-out, robust orchestration. On Saturday, May 3, more than 200 regional musicians will collaborate to present this classical masterwork in live performance at the Fox Cities PAC.
The rowdy subject matter is set to some of the most beautiful melodies in classical musical literature. The Carmina were songs of medieval traveling students and ex-monks who left universities and monasteries to pursue a roaring life of gambling, drinking and making love. The texts of the songs were discovered in a Bavarian monastery near Munich in the early 20th-century and are a mixture of 13th-century Latin and “low” German. The songs in the Carmina cover a range of topics, as familiar then as they are today: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.
The performance culminates the Fox Valley Symphony’s 47th season and is a favorite of Music Director Brian Groner. “There is something wonderfully primal about the text and the music of Carmina Burana,” Groner said. “When it speaks of power it is bold and over the top aggressive; when it talks of love it is either bawdy or exquisitely tender.”
According to newVoices Artistic Director, Phillip Swan, the masterwork is a welcome collaboration with the symphony. “Choral/orchestral collaborations provide a cross-pollination of musical interests,” Swan said. “Consequently, it’s good for the community to have arts organizations working together to put on quality productions.”
For singers & instrumentalists alike, Carmina Burana is a musical challenge because of the range of emotions needed to interpret the composer’s music. One movement requires repetitive, full-voiced singing and playing while the next movement requires a gentle, lyrical approach.
“It takes an unusual amount of concentration to maintain the rhythmic intensity Orff demands in the score, and because it is repetitive it can be physically challenging,” Groner said. “It’s a big sing,” Swan said. “The melodies are present an extreme of emotional singing requiring consistent vocal technique as well as artistic interpretation.”
Singers in the Lawrence Academy of Music Capriccio Girl Choir in grades 5-7 are excited for the opportunity to sing with a full orchestra, professional soloists (one of whom is a girl choir alumna), and an adult choir. “The girls are learning to listen to how their part fits into the other vocal and symphonic parts,” said Director of the Lawrence Academy of Music, Karen Bruno. “Singing with an orchestra allows them the opportunity to hear different timbres with their ‘accompaniment.’ The girls are used to hearing only the piano, with occasionally one other string or wind instrument, while they sing.” 

For the Hodges family, the performance will be a reunion. Father Mike Hodges is a founding member of newVoices where he sings with his son, Jeremy. Daughter Jennifer Hodges Bryan is an oboist with the symphony and brother Jonathan is a cellist. The family shares a long history of music and fostering musical development.
“We gave our kids outlets for enjoying music,” Mike Hodges said. “They all started in violin and in time gravitated toward their own choice of instrument,” he said. His wife, Donna, drove the kids to lessons at the Lawrence Academy of Music and checked their practice progress.
Jeremy Hodges says the opportunity to perform together is a normal part of a musical family.
But in the end it does have a special personal meaning: the people I care most about are with me and sharing the fun,” he said.
His father agrees. “I get such enjoyment from performing and to be able to have them on stage with me doubles the enjoyment. There is a sense of pride in watching their accomplishments,” Mike Hodges said.
Jonathan Hodges says the different roles family members play allows for unique perspectives. “I am more toward the front of the stage, Jennifer is in the middle, my father and Jeremy are toward the back and my mother is out in the audience. Every spot does sound quite different and can expose different aspects of the performance,” he said.
Family members are continuing the tradition as Jennifer Hodges Bryan has her three daughters enrolled in music lessons. “Having them learn an instrument and involved in music is something that I really wanted for them because I think there are several benefits to a child's development when they are involved in music,” she said.

Both conductors urge area residents to experience the work live, rather than listening to recordings. “You can’t reproduce the sound of 200 musicians live by putting it in a little speaker and expect it to sound the same. Hearing this music live is worth unplugging,” Swan said.
“Some of the greatest pieces of western civilization's art music combine the forces of chorus and orchestra,” Groner said. “There is a power in them that is greater than each standing alone.”
Concert information is:

MAY 3, 7:30 p.m., Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra
newVoices choir
Lawrence Academy of Music Capriccio Girl Choir
Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is an enduring audience favorite, and one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever written for orchestra, chorus and soloists.
Soprano soloist Alisa Jordheim ; tenor soloist Steven Paul Spears ; baritone soloist Chad Sloan

For ticket information, please visit www.foxvalleysymphony.com

- Written by Mary Schmidt of newVoices

Friday, February 28, 2014

Student Artwork to Shine for Compassion Project

As part of our upcoming Cory Chisel concert, we are proud to be working with the Fox Cities P.A.C. and local high school students to bring another Compassion Project event to our community. "The Art of Compassion" is a silent auction of student art, inspired by the works of local non-profit organizations with all proceeds to be give to those organizations. Students chose to work with NAMI, ARC of the Fox Valley, Harbor House and the Fox Cities Emergency Shelter.

Art Student Sarah Ellisen at work on her project. 
The students have been working hard on their projects, and there are over 120 pieces to bid on in the auction. We are so fortunate to have such a large group of dedicated students and teachers working on behalf of these organizations. 

Chip Noffke, Visual Arts teacher at Appleton East, was kind enough to share his experience with us.

"As an AASD Fine Arts Teacher, I was excited and honored be part of this great opportunity.  Visually listening to our youth is something I do on a daily basis, yet I am still amazed when I see the range of results and compassion that so easily pours from our students.  It is my hope that as you enjoy the answers to this rich question, your hearts and eyes will also be opened to see the possibilities and fullness of our all futures through our young artists’ eyes and these four noteworthy organizations.

"In continuation with our last community wide event, Fox Valley youth artists share how “The Fine Arts” continue to be one of the strongest and most diverse communication tools.  Students have once again easily opened our emotional doors and bridged the connections between community, education and humanity through their art which focus on local organizations and the compassion they provide for the Fox Valley.

"NAMI, ARC of the Fox Valley, Harbor House and the Fox Cities Emergency Shelter are four groups that have various roles in our K-12 systems, though often over looked how. Our students had the opportunity to explore the ways in which each organization played a role in helping all ages, genders, and families succeed in coping and overcoming life’s left turns.  One common point that had a significant connection with students is that we all knew of somebody that has worked with one of these organizations on some level.  This offered great inspiration for the artists.

"The artists involved were asked to share their interpretation of what compassion looks like for one of the organizations or how their art could offer compassion for somebody working with one of the four organizations.  Artists then used their gifts and talents to visually express their feelings, thoughts, and ideas about each group to bring awareness and support to these service organizations right here in the Fox Valley with amazing results.  Each original art work reflects their unique answers."

Please join us for this special event at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 15 at 7:30pm. You can purchase tickets to the concert on our website.

Doors open at 6:30, so come early to see and bid on the art!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Compassion Project Joins the FVSO

We are proud to partner with Appleton's Compassion Project for their second event here in the Fox Valley, the Art of Compassion. 

At our March 15 Cory Chisel concert, we will be opening K.C. Theater at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center as our art gallery. Before the concert and at intermission, our audience can view works of art from our local high schools and bid on them in a silent auction. Each piece is inspired by one of our local charities, and the money raised from the auction of each piece will be donated to that specific charity. It is an amazing way for our students to dedicate their time time and art to a charity that is meaningful to them.

Bridget Flaherty, St. Francis Xavier High School student
and musician with Fox Valley Symphony Youth Orchestra
St. Francis Xavier High School student Bridget Flaherty is our coordinator for this project, and we are also lucky to have her as part of our Fox Valley Symphony Youth Orchestra. For the Art of Compassion project, Bridget will be working with the artists and helping to set up the silent auction at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. 

"Having the opportunity to work on a project like the Compassion project not only inspires me but also proves to me that there is hope for my generation," says Flaherty. 

"When deciding what I wanted to work on for my required Junior Service Project at Xavier High School, I knew I wanted to choose something regarding the arts. Music and the arts have been an enormous part of my life since I was young through violin and piano lessons, participation in the Fox Valley Youth Symphonies, and participating in choir and art classes at school. When my mother, Beth Flaherty, suggested the Compassion Project I knew it was the perfect fit. Now that I have a deeper understanding of the purpose of the project and the involvement I have an even greater appreciation for the wonderful thing the project does.  

"I believe the most important aspect of the project is the unification of the Appleton schools through the value of compassion. All the students participating have different perspectives on what compassion means to them, and after reading all 120 of the artist statements, my definition of compassion has broadened. Every piece of artwork is worth more than any amount of money could buy it for because of the thought and hard work put into it by the student artists. 

"This exhibit will not only inspire you, but it will encourage you to step back and ask yourself what compassion means to you, and do your best to live your life with those values."

Friday, February 7, 2014

Turning Cory Chisel's Music into a Symphonic Celebration

Of course we are excited about our upcoming concert with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons on March 15. And one of the things making this concert even more special for us is that one of our own musicians, cellist Heather Anderson, is arranging the music for the symphony and Cory! 

Heather has been performing with the Fox Valley Symphony since our 1995-96 season when she was in college. She's also worked with our Youth Orchestras and our Partners in Education program over the years. For this concert, Heather will be arranging parts for the symphony and scores for conductor Brian Groner to play Cory Chisel's popular songs. It is a complex puzzle, and Heather tells us a bit about her experience: 

Heather Anderson working with our Philharmonia students.
"Composing is a funny process for me.  Or maybe what I experience is pretty typical.  I don’t know.  For all the analyzing I do – keys, time signatures, form, etc. – none of it matters much in the end.  No amount of analyzing and planning can create the synergy of notes working together to create something that elicits an emotional response from the musicians and audience.  That takes a bit of luck, some artistry and a group that can embrace and interpret a song with zeal.  The more I think about a song and analyze it the harder it is for me to actually “put pen to paper” (or in this case mouse to Finale software) and find the motivation to actually begin writing a song.  It can be very scary to stare at a screen with blank staffs and not be sure which part of that giant elephant to begin eating first.  It can cause anxiety and frustration. 

"Blank canvases, journals or music staffs are scary to look at.   Insecurities don’t help.  A lot of us are afraid to fail, but just as big of an inhibitor is being afraid to succeed.  If I dwell on either too much, the muse flees and I can’t write anything.  So, where to start?  As a cellist I almost always start with the bass line.  I’ll listen over and over. I’ll hum it.  Then I’ll transcribe it out for our bass section. Then I listen to the melody and start to transcribe it, putting it anywhere to begin with, usually into the violins just to have it be somewhere at first.   But those are still just planning and analyzing.  Those don’t reflect energy, style, or the soul of a piece.   Often I get stuck at this point because I am still only using my left brain, still analyzing.  

"Maestro Groner said something to the symphony in a rehearsal once, perhaps 5 or 6 years ago, that has really stayed with me.  We were playing a modern 20th century piece that very few of the orchestra members cared for.  He could sense this and he stopped us.   In a calm, quiet voice he said something along these lines.  “Look, if we don’t believe in this piece, how will the audience ever believe in it or enjoy it?  Here’s the rub:  You don’t know what you like; you like what you know.  People gravitate towards the familiar.”   So, we all were charged with listening to that particular piece often at home as a part of the concert preparation process.  This has changed how I approach a lot of music, familiar and new, those that I like and songs I dislike.   So, when arranging one of Cory’s songs I listen to it A LOT.  Enough that I dream about it.  Enough that I know the chord changes and melodic variations from one verse to the next by heart.  I’ll get fixated on a piece for a week and sing it in the car, at work, in the shower.   I may be a Cory Chisel expert by the end of this composing project!  This week my idée fixe is “Born Again.”  Next it’ll be “Mockingbird” since I’m starting that one tomorrow.

"At some point during my listening the magic happens.   Ideas just start to pop into my head, unbidden.  I didn’t plan to put that melody in the trumpets, but that’s what’s in my head and, wow, it sounds pretty darn good there!  Harmonies unfold, interesting little timbres pop out in my imagination where, for example, chimes in the percussion section would really accentuate a spot and create a little bubble of excitement.  Often I’m surprised at what my imagination present to me.  Sometimes I’ll hear whole sections played, finished in my mind and have to write it down very quickly to remember what I “heard.”   But it all starts with a lot of listening to Cory’s CD’s and really coming to know the song.  And it takes relaxing my mind and being open to the muse, if you will.  And when a song is completed I’ll routinely listen and ask myself “how did I do that?”   The answer is:  Relax, listen, and create. 

"I am thrilled Cory will get to hear his music interpreted with an entire symphony orchestra – something usually reserved for huge names like Sting or Metallica.  I am both excited for my peers to play my notes, my work, my interpretations of Cory’s tunes and I am equally terrified.  Cory, Maestro Groner and my peers have high expectations because they are all professional musicians and expect a professional level product from me.  And most have never played anything of mine before.  While I have premiered a piece with a few Illinois orchestras in the last few years, most of my peers never even knew I wrote music until they saw my name in the January concert program!  I know that, even if I have some typos for less familiar instruments to me, the other musicians will celebrate the occasion with me and give me excellent constructive feedback so I can improve. Already I have had numerous offers from my peers to look at parts and help me understand their instruments better; they want me to succeed.  This is greatly comforting and buoys my energy.  I’m so excited to share Cory’s and my music with them and the audience and have the chance to both compose and play something with my own symphony orchestra, my home team.  This is truly a rare opportunity and I feel blessed to have been trusted with this task by Brian Groner."

Monday, January 27, 2014

January Reveiw: 2014 Off to a Great Start!

Soloist and Principal Flute, Linda Nielsen Korducki
We had a great first concert of 2014!
Here is our review from James Chaudoir of University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh

"Cold weather didn’t keep devotees of the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra away from their subscription concert, “Celebrating Women Composers,” on Saturday night. The music selected formed a rather eclectic program, spanning a wide range of musical history and varying styles.

The concert opened with a rendering of a 2008 composition by the American conductor/composer Diane Wittry, titled “Mists.” Scored for full orchestra, the piece featured numerous contrasting colors and emotions, from its dark opening, to its brass-laden climax. While there were occasional moments of musical interest, in all, I found the piece to be rather lackluster, and deficient in continuity.
The orchestra’s principal flutist, Linda Nielsen Korducki, was featured soloist for the Concertino for Flute and Orchestra in D major, by Cécile Chaminade.

From its familiar opening melody, and through the technically advanced passages, Korducki demonstrated her complete understanding of the music. She possesses a lovely tone, with great strength in the low register, and balance throughout the flute’s entire range. Her articulation was precise as were the rapid scales featured in the concertino’s middle section.

A rich fullness was present in the orchestral accompaniment; a nice balance, supporting, but never overriding the prominent role of the flute. It was an absolute joy to hear this time-honored work so beautifully played by an accomplished professional.

The crowning glory of the evening, however, had to be the performance of the “Gaelic Symphony” by Amy Beach. This 40-plus minute composition in four movements can truly be recognized as one of the great symphonies in American musical history.

The orchestra played at its best while closely adhering to conductor Brian Groner’s expert direction. The color, harmony, thematic elements and sheer genius of orchestration technique put this work in a class by itself.

The opening movement, Allegro con fuoco, was filled with grand and heroic musical gestures. From the beginning, Beach was able to show her familiarity with orchestration and color, while reducing the full orchestra to many clearly defined solo passages. In the case of the first movement, these were primarily found in the principal horn and clarinet parts, expertly played by Bruce Atwell, principal horn, and Christopher Zello, principal clarinet.

This idea of “featured” solos continues into the second movement, Alla Siciliana; Allegro vivace, in three part form, alternating from the lilt of the siciliano which emphasized the winds, to a sprightly middle section calling attention to the strings.

The third movement, Lento con molto espressione, with the emphasis on expressive. The highlight of this movement was an extended violin solo played beautifully by concertmaster Yuliya Smead. This solo concludes while being joined in duet with the principal cello, again, well played by Laura Kenney Henckel. I can’t help but feel that the word “gorgeous” best describes this movement.

The finale, Allegro di molto, was filled with motion and rhythmic energy. It is in this movement where Groner’s direction came to the fore. His tempos were exhilarating, and his attention to detail brought out the very best that the score had to offer.
It was evident that the orchestra was feeling the excitement of playing this glorious symphony."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Celebrating Women Composers - January 25, 2014

Linda Nielsen Korducki
This Saturday, January 25, we start our performance year by celebrating women composers. You will hear pieces from Diane Wittry, Cecile Chaminade and Amy Beach.

Music history, in much the same way as history in general, has tended to neglect the contributions of women.   Think for a moment about Mozart's elder sister "Nannerl", who was often thought of as having an even greater gift than her brother.  When she reached what was thought of as a "marriageable age" she was no longer allowed to perform.  

Another example would be that of Fanny Mendelssohn, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn.  Their music teacher Carl Zelter found Fanny to be the more gifted of the two but today when we say the name Mendelssohn in musical circles we make the assumption that we are referring to the younger Felix.

And so, we are presenting a concert of music written by women to raise awareness of the fact that talent is not based on gender.

The Chaminade is a staple of the flute literature.  It is that wonderful combination of demanding for the performer, and wonderfully attractive for the listener. Our own principal flute, Linda Nielsen Korducki will be our soloist for the piece!

The Gaelic Symphony of the American composer Amy Beach (Mrs. H.H.A. Beach) is beautifully written, quite late German Romantic in style and is a testament to her intellect and persistence.  Her story is an interesting one.  She was a true child prodigy, singing and composing before the age at which most children can speak.  She had a career as a concert pianist, but was not "allowed" to continue performing when she married but was "allowed" one concert of her own compositions per year.  She is known as the first American female composer of large scale compositions. 

We will see you tomorrow!
- Brian Groner, FVSO Music Director

The concert is at 7:30pm at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Join us for a pre-concert talk at 6:40pm and a post-concert party in the lobby!