Retiring Paul Calcari takes to the podium for Holiday Concert Dec. 15
Paul Calcari at GHS
PIONEER VALLEY SYMPHONY presents its final concert of the season titled “Mozart and Mahler at the Movies.” Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Greenfield High School, Lenox Avenue, Greenfied. Works that have been performed in movies as varied as “Runaway Bride” and “The Accompanist.” Includes Mozart “Marriage of Figaro Overture” and “Vesperae solenne de confessore” and Mahler Symphony No. 4. $20 adults, $17 seniors/students, $6 children, on the Web, at 413-773-3664, or bought at the door. For reservations, call 773-3664 or go to pvso.org. Tickets also at World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls, Amherst Books in Amherst, and Broadside Books in Northampton.
GHS chorus in auditorium
Paul Calcari at GHS
Paul Calcari stood on the podium at the front of the practice room, peering down at the sheet music in front of him through glasses that hung low on his nose.
It was just after 9 p.m. during one of the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra’s Wednesday evening rehearsals — exactly two-and-a-half weeks before the orchestra’s Dec. 15 holiday concert at Greenfield High School.
The 56-year-old Orange native and current Greenfield resident is no stranger to the podium. He has directed high school music programs for the past 35 years, including 26 years at Greenfield High School.
But for Calcari, who will retire at the end of this school year, this Wednesday evening in Hadley’s Most Holy Redeemer Parish was the first time he’d led the community’s volunteer symphony orchestra.
At the symphony’s upcoming holiday concert, he’ll direct a combined performance of the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorus — as well as members of his own Greenfield High School chorus.
His music stand held the score for “Frostiana,” a 1959 work based on the poems of Robert Frost. American composer Randall Thompson wrote the piece to commemorate the town of Amherst’s 200th anniversary. Frost taught courses at Amherst College sporadically over a period of 40 years.
Thompson is Calcari’s favorite American choral composer and “Frostiana” is one of the Greenfield director’s favorite pieces.
“I’m going to take it a little faster,” said Calcari to the musicians.
“What we want to do is accentuate the words of the poem, ‘The Road Not Taken,’” he said. “This is, ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by’ ... We all know the poem. That traveling is traveling down your life.”
He began humming and snapped his fingers to the desired rhythm. Then he cued the musicians — and soon the room was filled with large, sweeping harmonies of strings, woodwinds and brass.
At another point, the sound softened and the high notes of a few woodwinds danced through the air.
“It’s going to be very playful, (like) frolicking through the memory of your own life,” said Calcari. “You’re at the end of your journey. You’ve made your choice. Now you’re thinking back, ‘Wow, wasn’t it great?’”
Honoring Calcari’s career
As Greenfield High School’s music director, Calcari oversees a variety of in-class and after-school groups — the 8th grade chorus, high school chorus, select choir, high school marching band, concert band and jazz band.
This school year will be his 27th and final at Greenfield.
“Our music department is extremely active,” said Calcari. “Every single group is out doing things constantly.”
“When I was 29 years old, that was an awful lot of fun. When I was 35 years old, that was still an awful lot of fun,” he said. “Now, I’m going on 60 years old. I get very very tired ... I love the job. I just can’t quite keep up with it.”
Pioneer Valley Symphony music director Paul Phillips has worked with Calcari for nearly 20 years — collaborating with the school’s chorus during a number of performances.
“We have enjoyed a warm relationship,” said Phillips. “When he told me last summer he planned to retire, I thought that the right thing for us to do is to offer him a chance to conduct at a concert. He hasn’t ever done that.”
The invitation surprised Calcari, who is looking forward to the opportunity to lead the 74-year-old symphony and his chorus in two songs from “Frostiana.”
“It’s a very fine organization (and) I don’t get the chance to conduct an orchestra very often,” said Calcari. “The two pieces we’re doing (have) the chorus and the orchestra, which are two of my loves, and I’m getting to do two of my favorite pieces ... There’s nothing not to be thrilled about.”
Tributes to cinema and poetry
“Frostiana” is just one of nine different pieces the symphony will perform at its concert next week. The set list includes holiday tunes, tributes to poets and songs from the silver screen.
It’s the symphony’s second show this year — in a season that carries a cinematic music theme.
“There’s a lot of great music in movie scores that can be played as an orchestra, but it’s usually not programmed in concerts,” said Phillips. The symphony discussed the idea of a movie music theme in years past, but finally decided to run with it for this season.
The first performance of the evening, “Christmas at the Movies,” will feature songs from films both old (“Miracle on 34th Street”) and new (“Polar Express”).
Then, later in the show, the orchestra will play Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune.” The French composer was born 150 years ago and the piece has been used in many films, said Phillips.
That will be followed immediately by “A Tribute to Henry Mancini” — who Phillips called one of the most famous film composers of the 1960s.
“Everyone knows his music to ‘Pink Panther,’ ‘Peter Gunn’ and ‘Days of Wine and Roses,’” he said.
Poets will get their time to shine in the concert, too.
In addition to “Frostiana,” the symphony orchestra and chorus will perform “Mid-Winter Songs.” Written by Morten Lauridsen, the half-hour composition has five movements, each based on a different poem by English poet Robert Graves.
“It’s very energetic (with) lots of rhythmic complexities and shifting meters ... It grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let you go,” said Jonathan Harvey, the symphony’s chorus director.
The Lauridsen piece is filled with Greek mythological references as well as wintertime reflections.
The last movement, especially, is “like a contemplative rumination on winter, both the good things that it brings and the bad,” said Harvey.
Holiday songs for all ages
The concert will also feature a range of holiday tunes — beginning with the “Christmas at the Movies” medley.
The orchestra will perform songs from “Amahl and the Night Visitors” — the first opera to be composed for television in America, which was broadcast live from New York City on Christmas Eve, 1951.
Two Hanukkah songs will be played, with both the symphony and high school choruses joining the orchestra for “Rock of Ages.”
In the second set, the orchestra will perform “There’s Christmas in the Air” — a medley that features classic Christmas songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
And the grand finale, featuring everybody, will blend together eight popular holiday jingles. There just may even be an opportunity for the crowd to sing along.
“It’s a concert that we’ve particularly geared for families,” said Phillips. “We would encourage people of all ages to come and bring their children.”
Anna Wetherby, the symphony’s orchestra librarian and personnel manager, has played viola with the group for 20 years, since she herself was a teenager.
“Last year, we basically sold out Greenfield High School with a lot of very young people in the audience coming to see the symphony for the first time with their families,” she said. “It was incredibly exciting.”
A symphony for the community
Attracting families has been one of the symphony’s goals in recent seasons.
“What we’re trying to do with the orchestra quite a bit over the years is really focus on young people and enticing them and drawing them in,” said Lynn Lovell, the orchestra’s principal bassist. “(That way,) in the future, orchestras beyond us will have audience members or players.”
The 74-year-old symphony includes about 120 musicians from all ages, backgrounds and locations across the Pioneer Valley. The symphony is open to interested parties, when space is available, and most of the positions are volunteer.
For the musicians, it’s a chance to socialize with peers but also improve their skills.
“The music is sometimes very difficult, (but) somehow Paul Phillips manages to pull us all together,” said Judy Hudson, a viola player who has been a part of the orchestra for three decades.
Ben Smar, the orchestra’s principal trombone player, joined the symphony 18 years ago. He had just moved from the Midwest and was looking for a way to integrate into the community.
The Amherst resident keeps coming back because he finds the music challenging and the performances fulfilling.
“Part of what we’re doing with the themes (each season) is not just giving some title to the program,” said Smar, “but using it as a way to structure repertoire for the artistic side, a way to give the audience a focus as they listen to the music.”
Tickets on sale
The Dec. 15 concert begins at 7 p.m. at Greenfield High School. Four conductors will direct portions of the show: Phillips, Harvey, Calcari and the symphony’s assistant director, Jonathan Brennand.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors or students and $6 for children under 18.
They can be purchased online at www.pvso.org or by calling 413-773-3664.
Several book stores — World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls, Amherst Books in Amherst and Broadside Books in Northampton — will also sell tickets.
Staff reporter Chris Shores started at The Recorder in 2012. He covers education and health and human services. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264. His website is www.chrisshores.com.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.