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