Encores & Curtain Calls: Pioneer Valley Symphony, the little orchestra that could!
“I’m not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer.”
— Leonard Bernstein
The Pioneer Valley Symphony, which is soon to turn a venerable 76, has released its 2014-2015 season of offerings with an eye toward focusing on music born of the stage, in honor of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday this past April.
While the stage link in the season opener on, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m., at Bowker auditorium at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, is evident only in Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Suite,” there will be the novelty of a trombone concerto by Tomasi, balanced by the consoling sonorities of Brahms’ autumnal fourth symphony.
The next concert on Nov. 16, at 3 p.m., at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, features “Shakespeare on Shuffle,” a concert of works on Shakespeare texts, with a premiere by Gregory Brown.
Winter brings the annual holiday festival on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m., at the Deerfield Academy Performing Arts Center, with program fare that will doubtless include many PVS Christmas staples, but very possibly no stage or Shakespeare.
Feb. 7 brings the venue to the Greenfield Middle School, at 7:30 p.m., with works by Mozart, Sarasate and Beethoven and Haydn’s Overture to “Armida.”
March 29 brings the beloved Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 with Jeffrey Biegel, soloist, and the third symphony by Jan Sibelius, the great 20th century master of that form. It will take place at 7 p.m. at the Deerfield Academy Performing Arts Center.
And finally, with stage drama returning for a final bow on May 9, Mascagni’s opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” will hit the floorboards of the Academy of Music in Northampton in a partially staged performance beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Accolades & awards
As in the past, there comes another feather in the cap of the Pioneer Valley Symphony, which is one of 27 American orchestras to be honored with a 2013-2014 ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming at the League of American Orchestras National Conference, which convened June 4 to 6 in Seattle, Wash.
The award recognizes the symphony’s legacy of consistently performing 20th and 21st century works, clearly ground-breaking from the programming angle in the likes of such composers as John Harbison, Peter Lieberson, William Perry and the symphony’s own music director and conductor, Paul Phillips.
The typical 21st century second-tier American orchestra’s outreach to its concert-going public is often a skillfully, if painfully crafted hybrid of art, sell and hyperbole. Our own Pioneer Valley Symphony is no exception; it knows that the human imagination is captured by ideas themes, whether real or conjured, that get the public at large to come take a peek and a listen.
Broadway, Hollywood, war and peace, death and rebirth, all these serve as psychological bridges that persuade the increasingly apathetic prisoners of the virtual world — YouTube and iPod-ville — to bestir themselves, move their bodies and minds and, hopefully, actually listen.
But I feel PVS is worthy of an even more compelling season theme than any of its interesting but sometimes too loosely connected predecessors. So, I propose that it seriously entertain the notion of dedicating itself, hook, line and sinker, to works inspired and generated by dance. Think of it: masterworks such as Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” Ravel’s ecstatically beautiful “Daphnis & Chloe,” Debussy’s haunting “Danses Sacrée et Profane,” Rachmaninov’s intricate and intriguing “Symphonic Dances” and other gems, such as “Danse Macabre” and, for that matter, Copland’s “Dance Symphony” and “Dance Panels.” Maybe even an Astaire-Rogers medley.
So much to choose from and all of it so exciting! Let us up hope Mr. Phillips is a secret devotee of this column and open to suggestions; indeed, being captain of a ship that has garnered awards in adventurous programming, how could he not be?
Despite my embrace of offbeat programming, I would have to share that, while superficially engaging and pizzazzy, my feeling remains that William Perry’s works often fail to yield very much ultimate bang for their buck, being more pastiches of pop-style tunes and marginally infectious rhythms more suited to the movie theater than the concert hall. There are many more skilled creators who deserve hearing much prior to any return visits by this PVS invitee. Likewise with regard to the much heralded but, in retrospect, rather weak JFK homage by Peter Lieberson, whose music, complex as it may be, has never been able to generate great emotional impact, in my view, for any enduring work of art.
The League and ASCAP present the awards each year to orchestras of all sizes for programs that challenge the audience, build the repertoire and increase interest in music of our time. Approximately $750,000 has been bestowed on orchestras since the awards were established in 1947.
Of the award, Mandi Jo Hanneke, PVS board president, commented: “It’s truly wonderful to receive this award in our 75th anniversary season. We have always been committed to exposing local audiences to a wide variety of symphonic music, from traditional favorites to contemporary works. This is our third ASCAP award and we’re thrilled to be consistently recognized for this commitment.”
High marks, then, for the little orchestra in Pioneer Valley that could!
PVS website, advance ticket booking: www.http/pvsoc.org
Ongoing musical opportunities
And lastly, a gentle reminder to check in to the still ongoing Mohawk Trail Concerts, 1794 Meetinghouse, Marlboro Music Series, epic Tanglewood Summer Series and Old Deerfield Sunday Afternoon Concerts, among others, while they are yet with us.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at email@example.com.