Winding up for the CHSO Season Finale- Saturday, April 29th

It’s hard to believe that another Claflin Hill Symphony season is nearing it’s conclusion!   It seems as though it was only a few weeks ago that I was writing some “blog” installments talking about the opening concert in November, and “BAM” – we’re about to enter April and present the final concerts of both the CHSO Symphony Series and the CHSO Alternatives Chamber Series.

Matthew Pearl, CHYS concerto competition winner and one of Paul's clarinet students

Matthew Pearl, CHYS concerto competition winner and one of Paul's clarinet students

Just yesterday, we presented our Annual CHSO Family Symphony Matinee concert, which always features our Claflin Hill Youth Symphonies students performing alongside of their CHSO mentors.  It was an inspiring and exciting afternoon!  The biggest audience we’ve ever had for the Sunday Matinee, and a phenomenal program of music by the great composers that was used in movies and cartoons! 

Our CHYS kids were outstanding – and there were times when you couldn’t tell the difference between the professional CHSO and the students!  Really !!!

Coming up on Friday, April 7th, we close out the Fifth season of the CHSO Alternatives Chamber Music Series at the Singh Performance Center in the Alternatives Whitin Mill in Whitinsville.

The program is entitled, “Paul Surapine – Family & Friends” – yes I have a few of each!) – and features my sister, Beth Surapine on Piano, and my son, Zachary on Violin, along with some special “student/friends” from my teaching studio at the Rhode Island Philharmonic School of Music.

Paul Surapine.1 flyer Chamber Series.jpg

Beth and I used to perform together extensively between the mid-1980s and 2005 or so.   She’s really about the best piano accompanist I’ve ever played with – maybe it’s a “sibling thing” but it’s almost as if we don’t need to rehearse – we both know exactly how each of us are going to play a certain phrase and it just comes together like magic.   She performed Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with us in 2005 – that concert still stands out as one of our most memorable evenings!

For this “reunion” concert, we’ve picked out some of our favorite oldies from recitals past – the Finzi “Bagatelles”,  Lutaslowski “Dance Preludes”, and some great arrangements by my revered teacher Kalmen Opperman and my fellow Opperman student Dick Stoltzman of everything from Chopin to jazz to New Age.  

Zachary is going to join his Dad and Auntie to play the Darius Milhaud “Suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano” – a work we’ve played together once or twice.   Zach is all grown up now – as a little boy, he used to play games in the Town Hall with his brother Josh after they helped load in equipment for the concerts – now he’s playing violin in the halls and is becoming an integral part of the orchestra that grew up alongside of him.  Kind of a nice thing to see happen!  

That program, together with our CHSO Season Finale, “Road Trip!” – which features Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” – one of my very favorite pieces in the world – is going to make for a very emotional end of this – our Seventeenth CHSO Season, and it WAS a Very Good Year.

CHSO Season Seventeen, Blog Five

So, it’s already the second month of the New Year, and it’s been crazy-busy already!   This coming Saturday evening’s CHSO concert will be our fourth major production in the New Year!  We started out with the CHSO Alternatives concert on January 13, followed by our performance with famed Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan at the Stadium Theater in Woonsocket on January 21, then on to Claflin Hill Youth Symphonies Winter Concert the very next day, and now we are gearing up to perform “Fire & Ice!”

ronan-claflin-fbad.jpg

Believe or not, I actually get a little nervous coming up to each of these major CHSO programs. I study the scores, listen to recordings of the works we’re about to explore, study some more trying to figure how to conduct and indicate the musical phrases clearly for the musicians – but going into the first rehearsal on the Tuesday of the week of the concert, I’m always asking myself if I’m prepared enough to stand in front of the orchestra and lead them safely through the pieces in front of us.   Partly, as a musician, I know just how hard these programs I design are for the orchestra – any orchestra! In fact, I rarely see programming in other orchestras that is as ambitious or daring as ours!

But then Tuesday evening arrives, the orchestra convenes, and we sound the first notes of the masterworks before us.   At the end of the evening, I always come home elated, excited and reassured. 

Last night was just such a night.   What an orchestra we have!  What great players, what great heart they all have individually and as a whole!

“Fire & Ice” as a program concept was designed around Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1 – a work I first played in 1978 on my first college orchestra concert when I began my studies at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, CT.  It is a truly majestic and awe inspiring piece – for me, evoking the vistas and natural monumental landscapes of the northern Scandinavian landscape.   Close your eyes and you can picture vast glaciers, towering ice formations rising from the sea, a bluish tint in the horizon – and above all, a lush romantic musical language.   It almost could be the soundtrack of a movie!   Sibelius created what some call a “nationalistic” musical flavor – we are all familiar with his “Finlandia” which has since become a universal hymn of peace and brotherhood.

Finlandia is a gorgeous, gorgeous work, full of BIG sounds and energy, and with our first reading last night I knew that Saturday would be yet another magnificent CHSO triumph!

In building the program around the Sibelius, I was looking for a theme, and with the icy and majestic flavor of that work, and came up with a concert celebrating the “elements, ”hence “Fire & Ice.”

Igor Stravinsky’s “Fireworks” is a very short opus, barely five minutes long, but its energy and color pack almost as many notes into those short minutes as the entire rest of the concert!  It is “Fast and Furious” and truly lives up to the title – you will literally envision fireworks coming out of the orchestra, and yet it has moments of sublime, romantic, French Impressionistic sounds.   Quite a curtain-raiser to get things started on Saturday!

Mason Morton, chso principal harpist

Mason Morton, chso principal harpist

Our CHSO Harpist, Mason Morton is featured in the Maurice Ravel “Introduction and Allegro” for Harp and orchestra on Saturday.  This is a piece that was originally conceived as a chamber work – for harp with String Quartet, Flute and Clarinet – but can be done with the full orchestral string section as well, and I think it just exudes a richer, lusher sound with all of our great CHSO strings brought into the mix.  (By the way, Ronan Tynan kept exclaiming to me over and over again during our gig with him, on what a great string sound we have!)

The Ravel is delicate, energetic, explosive and gorgeous – all in fifteen minutes – a true example of great French Impressionism, and Mason is just about the greatest Harpist we’ve ever had in the orchestra!  He came last night ready to play, and again, the fears I had about putting this one together dissolved away in a few seconds!   We had so much fun with it, that we played it through in its entirety twice!

Mason, as some of you may know, is also a member of the pop music group, “Sons of Serendip” who were finalists several seasons ago on “America’s Got Talent” and they were also featured two summers ago with the Boston Pops during the Fourth of July Esplanade concert. 

Apart from being a great harpist and musician, he’s a truly wonderful person, and a real part of the CHSO family.   You will all be enchanted and enthralled watching him as he works his magic on that great big harp – an instrument that I just don’t know how they do everything they do with !  Watching a harpist play makes me feel insignificant just being a clarinet player!

So there you are – it is truly a NOT TO BE MISSED CHSO event, and although its title is “Fire & Ice” –celebrating the natural elements of nature, it really could be an evening of “Romantic” music.  Funny how these things end up turning out!

See you on Saturday, I can’t wait for the Thursday rehearsal – oh the fun we’ll have!

Paul Surapine

It WILL Be A VERY Good Year!! Blog No. 4 All Saints Day!

It’s the day after Halloween, 2016 and we’re only 5 days away from “Zero Hour,” when I get to walk out to the podium, bow to our audience and our orchestra, turn around, raise my arms and with one downward stroke, launch a new year.  I can’t wait.

Tonight will be the first rehearsal for the concert, and it will be like a “family reunion” – with all of the CHSO musicians coming into Town Hall for the first time together since last April!  It’s always a special night, seeing everyone again after a long hiatus, lots of hugs, kisses, sharing of stories and pix, (though of course now with “social media” it’s not like we haven’t been in touch constantly all summer anyway!), but the first rehearsal is indeed a special night.

We begin work tonight on some truly great symphonic “chestnuts” of our repertoire – Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture”, Felix Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 5 “ known as the “Reformation Symphony”, and Johannes Brahms last offering in the symphony form – his “Fourth Symphony.”

The classical symphony form, which was “perfected” by Haydn and Mozart throughout the 1700s, became a standard genre of orchestral endeavor by the time Beethoven turned his attention to it.  Beethoven’s first two symphonies pretty much followed the form and style of his predecessors, but it was his Third Symphony, “The Eroica” that changed everything.   From then on, as the Classical period gave way to the Romantic period, the “symphony” became a vehicle for expansion of expression and “experimentation” and also pretty much spurred the growth of the orchestra ensemble to the size we now consider standard.

Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, all of which are immensely loved two hundred years later, and of course, the Ninth has become an “anthem” of world brotherhood and understanding.  (Maybe people should listen to it more often these days!).

CHSO so far has performed Beethoven Symphonies One, Three, Four, Five, (twice!), Six and Nine.

On our opening concert on Saturday evening, instead of one of his symphonies, we are performing his “Egmont Overture,” which was written between October 1809 and June 1810.  It was written originally as part of a set of incidental pieces for the play “Egmont” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which portrayed the life of a 16th century Dutch nobleman, the Count of Egmont, who was condemned to death for his valiant stand against oppression.  The overture later becomes an “unofficial” anthem of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising against the Soviet Union.  

It was written several years after the Fifth Symphony, was one of the last of Beethoven’s “middle period” works, and evokes all the strength, power, and tumult that all of us now recognize as Beethoven’s “Voice.”

Following Beethoven’s death and in the wake of his immense volume of “music-changing” work, composers of the nineteenth century continued to expand and experiment with the “symphony” form, though not without some “nervousness” and trepidation, as one can imagine – who would want to follow a giant of history, right after he finished?   It might be like having to become the next New England Patriots quarterback after TB 12 finally retires!!!!

Felix Mendelssohn was a prolific composer in the early to mid-1800s.  Born in 1809 in Hamburg, Germany, he was the son of a wealthy and influential banking family, kind of on the level of the Rothschild banking family.   He was actually something of a child prodigy, almost on a “Mozart” level – before he was in his teens he had already composed some very accomplished and respected works and had been invited to England to conduct his music with the London Symphony as a very young man.  His family kept hoping he would eventually put aside his little “hobby” and return to the family banking business!!!!

Mendelssohn – who as a young man aspired to someday be invited to become the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic – instead accepted a position in Leipzig as director of their music conservatory and also director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra – in part because of his fascination with the music of J.S. Bach.   Bach lived and worked most of his life as director of the St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Leipzig, and Mendelssohn hoped that he would be closer to the heart of where Bach lived, walked and created.  In fact, Mendelssohn can take a fair amount of credit for the resurgence of interest in Bach’s music, and was credited with one of the first modern day performances of the St. Matthew Passion – one of Bach’s (and humankind’s) greatest artistic achievements.

Mendelssohn began work on the “Reformation” symphony in 1829, hoping to complete it in time for a major celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, set to take place in June of 1830.  He struggled with the work through the winter, battling illness, and in fact the celebrations ended up being cancelled that spring anyway, due to rising political tensions in the region.   In subsequent years, the symphony fell to the “back burner” – a scheduled performance of it in 1832 was cancelled because the orchestra musicians found it “too difficult” to play, and Mendelssohn became defensive and shy about presenting the work.  Again, remember, Beethoven had just died several years previous, and anything anyone wrote would be held up against the Monumental Ninth.

Personally, I first performed it as a tenth grader, in my first year as Principal Clarinetist of the Greater Hartford Youth Orchestra.   (I can remember flipping through the pages, looking for possible “big clarinet solos” and was a bit disappointed to find none!!!).   However it was (and is) a captivating symphony, full of romantic power and narrative.   In the first movement you can imagine the strife and struggle as a new religion came to life, and people sought to free themselves of overbearing control – set off by his occasion quote of the “Dresden Amen” – a well-known and popular choral moment from church services of the time – providing moments of serenity and repose.    The final movement makes use of the Martin Luther hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” and all in all, it is a majestic and powerful work.  

Mendelssohn’s symphonies are mis-numbered – partly because he did not publish the Reformation until much later, but in fact, it is his second attempt in the symphony form. 

We end the opening evening with Johannes Brahms’ “Fourth Symphony.”

Brahms wrote four symphonies, and he spent almost twenty years on the first one, constantly revising it and fretting over whether it was good enough to release to the public.   In fact, I can remember reading a quote from one of his letters to a friend, saying, “you have no idea what it is like to work in the shadow of Him,” referring to the late Beethoven.  Brahms was frequently without confidence as to his own abilities, and feared that his First Symphony would be poorly compared to the Ninth of Beethoven.  (in fact, it is an amazing work, and came to be jokingly called, “Beethoven’s Tenth!”)

We performed the Brahms First in October of 2004 – I can remember that as one of our most memorable concerts – (Beethoven’s Fourth was also on the program) – and it was the year the Red Sox “broke the curse!”   Lori Halt, one of our longtime CHSO flautists emailed me after the concert, saying “we’re like the Red Sox of Symphony orchestras!!”

Brahms did not give titles or names to his symphonies – he wrote four – but the first might be called his “Appassionato”, the Second, his “Pastoral” and the Third his “Eroica.”

The Fourth Symphony is considered by many to be his finest effort in the form, and coming later in his life, I always thought it has a “Valedictory” aura about it.  In listening to it in the past weeks, I also hear defiance and tumult – almost a Beethoven type quality of raging against fate, perhaps.  I’ve always thought of the writings of St. Paul when I listen to Brahms – he gives a sense in his later works of a man looking back on his life and the work he will leave behind as his “proof of existence” and saying, “it was OK, I think I did OK, it was a good life.”

To frame his personality in a more modern, (or modern to Brahms lifetime) context, I think he was the musical version of Abraham Lincoln – sometimes melancholy, always deep, and in the end, always appealing to the “better angels of our human nature.”

It WILL BE a very good year!

Yes, I know, it’s been a bit of time since the last installment!  It’s been a real “zoo” here at Claflin Hill since the end of August!   Although we had been working throughout the summer on preparations for the upcoming season, it still all avalanches down on us right after Labor Day – between Season Ticket renewals, Program book ad sales, finalizing the programming, confirming musicians in the orchestra, not to mention that at the same time, the Claflin Hill Youth Symphonies resume operations  – this year we have almost 100 aspiring young music students participating in our CHYS programs!!! 

The piles of work folders and “to-do” lists on my desks and tables here in the office have finally started to clear, and I’m starting to feel like the guy who was drowning in water 3 feet over his head, has finally gotten the water line down to about chest level and can breathe again!!!!

In spite of all of that, and in spite of the late evening hours back in the office after teaching all afternoon, it’s all GOOD.  In fact FUN, because we ARE Building something that is getting stronger, bigger and better.

Planning the launch of another CHSO Symphony year is kind of like planning a gigantic family re-union!

Dimitar Petkov, CHSO principal violist.

The musicians in the orchestra are “champing” at the bit, looking forward to our first rehearsal on Tuesday, November 1st, and I know that evening will be special – full of hugs, kisses, sharing of pictures of our kids, grandkids, special activities from the summer and then the much anticipated moment of finally sitting down together again and making some of the most gorgeous symphony music ever written come to life again in our hall.

Because we’re really a very small “operation” with myself as the main office worker, season ticket renewals have to be done by phone – patrons calling into the office to confirm their reservation of their seats from last year, and others who are calling because they had come to a concert or two last season and now would like to order the entire season.

And I get to have nice, sometimes 5 or 10 minute chats with them, as they share their opinions and excitement over another CHSO season about to unfold.   Really, that’s a pretty neat thing about Claflin Hill.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could call the Boston Symphony and place your order with the music director, and talk to him about what you like about the orchestra, or even what you would like to hear sometime soon!  So far, everyone I’ve spoken to are as excited as the orchestra musicians are about the upcoming season and programming.

The music for the first CHSO concert arrived via UPS last week and is now out in the mail to the orchestra members to begin their practice and preparations.   That’s almost like “Christmas gift” unwrapping – opening  boxes of orchestral scores and parts for Brahms, Beethoven and Mendelssohn – glancing at it for the first time and imagining the sounds we’ll bring to life.  Yes, life is pretty wonderful sometimes!

Next week, next installment I’m planning to write more about our first program, “In the Shadow of Ludwig van…” featuring Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, the Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5 and Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 4, but today I want to leave you all with another thought.

Our CHSO Alternatives Chamber Concert Series actually resumes on Friday evening, October 21st at 7:30 PM at the Alternative’s Whitin Mill Singh Performance Center in Whitinsville.

The opening concert features “Brass Venture” – which is a brass quintet made up of most of the CHSO Brass Principal players.  They are an enormously energetic, powerful and entertaining bunch and each of them individually is a major virtuoso on their instruments.   Together, they create a gorgeous brass choir sound and explore everything from Renaissance antiphonal music to New Orleans jazz. 

Remember the “Canadian Brass”???   “Brass Venture” is the CHSO version of that popular group.  They are great players, and they’re fun to be in the same room with, as their lively and sometimes comedic banter bouncing back and forth in between pieces is as entertaining as the music!!  I kind of always think of our brass guys as a big bunch of “Football” stars, sitting back there in the orchestra ready to unleash power at the wave of a hand.  Imagine them as “the Gronk” with musical instruments, and you’ll get the idea!!

Chamber music is a totally different experience for the ear and senses – the Singh Performance Center with its “stadium style” seating and small hall make for a quite intimate concert evening – you feel like you’re right there with the musicians as they play – almost like you had come to their living room to visit for an evening and they took out their horns and said, “hey, want to here this?”

If you haven’t tried the CHSO Alternatives Chamber Series yet, I urge you to think about coming over and being in our “living room” on Friday, October 21st.   You won’t be disappointed, I guarantee, and what a way to jump start the Claflin Hill season!

See you all soon, more to talk about next week.  (no more vacations or boating trips, but I guess the upside of the end of summer is the beginning of CHSO again !!! – as Bill Murray would say, “I guess we’ve got that going for us!”

Paul Surapine  

Art transcends time and place...

Blog No. 2  ~   Thursday, August 11, 2016    10:30 AM . . .

Well, the word is out about our upcoming CHSO 2016-17 Season, and a lot of people – both audience members and musicians -- commented after my first blog installment of the season on how excited they are about the upcoming concert programs.

As I mentioned in that first blog, this season I want to turn our attention to some of the great “symphonies” of the orchestral literature.

The “Symphony” as a form of music composition is one of the pinnacles of our repertoire.  Going back to the classical period, it evolved out of the Baroque period – Bach wrote a number of “Suites” for orchestra, but Haydn and Mozart truly developed the form into what we now call a “symphony.”

A symphony is most commonly comprised of four movements – usually a large, energetic first movement; a slow, lulling and beautiful second movement; a brisk third movement, usually in the form of a “minuet” or dance “scherzo” and a big “finale” movement. 

In fact, when we use the term “Symphony Orchestra,” we’re really describing the kind of orchestra we are:  symphony being an “adjective” that describes the type or size of “orchestra” we’re talking about:   an orchestra ensemble of musicians capable of presenting and performing the larger forms of music that are symphonies.  There are also “chamber” orchestras, string orchestras, etc….

As a symphony orchestra, it is our mission, and indeed even our sacred responsibility, to use the fine vehicle of an ensemble that we’ve built to bring these great masterworks to life, and to sustain and perpetuate the great culture of Western Civilization’s music tradition into future generations. 

Many of our audience members never heard a symphony orchestra concert before they ventured into the Claflin Hill concert hall, and many of them probably never explored the long and rich culture that our great composers and artists of the last 300 years have bequeathed to us. 

I’ve always believed that if properly introduced to these works, they can become accessible to every person.   This belief goes back to my college days, when I was required to take a Western Civilization Art course as part my degree curriculum.   I was never really a big “visual art” appreciator, didn’t frequent the local art museums, (both Springfield and Hartford had very reputable museums – The Springfield Museum of Fine Art, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford – both of which are still there).  I would often be there performing concerts in those venues, but the art was lost on me!

In my Western art class – which was three hours long every Wednesday evening – the professor would project slide after slide up on the big screen, and walk us through the entire history of visual art – painting and sculpture – and explain how the forms evolved – the use of light, perspective, color.  It was fascinating to me and I quickly began to understand things about those great masters – Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet and more – that made them great, revered, respected and loved long after their time on earth.

Brahms

I’ve always thought that we musicians should explain what we do, and what these monumental pieces of music we so love are, to new audiences in the same manner, and that is the “genesis” of the CHSO concert presentation concept for the last sixteen years.  From feedback I receive from our audience members and friends, it is much appreciated and it’s working!  Our audience is growing, and together, we’re really on a trip of exploration and discovery of our cultural heritage.

Music is an essential part of life and our life experience.  I think almost anybody would immediately feel the impact on their daily existence if the world was suddenly silent and void of music around us.  For many, that music is mostly in the “pop” culture vein, but music is music.

I think of music as having two essential elements that touch our souls and draw us to it like moths to a bright light – rhythm and melody.   Rhythm touches the “visceral,” almost primeval part of our being – the driving beat of a dance tune, something we’ve all experienced in a dance club perhaps or at a large “rock” concert.   Beautiful melodies that touch our reflective and evocative nature – that gorgeous song you first heard together with your significant other – “that’s “our” song!”

All of this can be found in so-called “classical” music – the energy and driving force of a Bruce Springsteen show can be felt in a work of Beethoven or Stravinsky; the beauty of a Brahms melody can touch us even more deeply than a melody from Adele.

As musicians, it is our duty to help new audience members make these connections, and open a door into an entire new world of experience – after all, the stuff we play has been around for 300 years!  Somebody must think it’s pretty great!!! We’ll have to wait and see if today’s “pop” artists are still being listened to in the year 2316.   (I will try to check in then!!)

Next week, I’ll talk a bit about our first program -- “In the Shadow of Ludwig Van…” – and we’ll explore more of those monumental “symphonies” that we’re about to share together this season.

Have a great weekend; don’t let the summer pass you by.   I think I’ll head out to Webster Lake now!

Paul Surapine

 

 

It WILL Be A VERY Good Year!!

Thursday, July 28, 2016    10:30 AM . . .

Well, back to the blog undertaking!   I hope everyone has been having a great summer so far – I’m in the office for a few minutes today, just before heading up to Bridgton, Maine and our Aunt Eva’s house on Long Lake for an extended weekend stay, hopefully full of sun filled days out on the water, early mornings sitting on the dock by the water’s edge, watching the morning mist lift off the lake, and hearing the calling of the loons as they float up and down the eleven miles plus expanse of gorgeous Maine vista.

It’s been a good summer so far here at Claflin Hill – Family Night at the Bandstand is in full “swing” (actually the Fantasy Big Band is coming next week for an evening of Swing Era classics!) – and believe or not, we’ve already completed the season programming for this coming season of CHSO concerts!

Fantasy Big Band at Family Night at the Bandstand

As I related in my springtime missives, planning a symphony season is a sometimes long process of waiting for ideas and inspirations to occur – I may start with one idea and as weeks of contemplation over that idea cook away in my head, it may take us in a different direction altogether.

The “Muses” struck early this year – and I’m TOTALLY excited by the menu of great music we’ve laid out for our communal sharing and exploration.   You can already view the roster of concerts on the website, and season tickets will go on sale in mid-August.  Watch for more details in those email blasts from Bernadette soon.

I even love our season “tag-line” – “It WILL Be A VERY Good Year”   which in a sense, pays tribute to the great ending of last year’s season, referencing the Sinatra classic which was so perfectly performed by the orchestra and Tommy Gatturna on our April season finale, and after all – this is our Seventeenth Season.   “When I was seventeen . . ."

I started out hoping to program a number of great Symphonies of the repertoire – I had Brahms in mind, and Jean Sibelius, the Finnish composer, and a few others.  I wanted to make this season an “exploration” of the “Symphony” form – performing those great “chestnuts” of our repertoire that we’ve yet to present, but also keeping true to our Claflin Hill concept of “fusion cuisine” for music – presenting great classics AND music that may be more familiar to audience members.

The tricky aspect of doing that when you’re playing something like a Brahms symphony is – what do you pair that with on the same night that will seem appropriate to the beauty and exquisiteness of his music – or any of the other amazing and stellar composers of our culture.   You don’t want to serve a “filet mignon” alongside of a Twinkie, for instance!!!

But, as I said, the “Muses” awoke early, and all sorts of ideas came into play and quickly it evolved into a lineup of works that excite me and also all of the musicians of the orchestra, who – as they sent in their confirmations for work during the season, all commented on what a terrific program we have to look forward to.

I’ll write more about upcoming concerts when I return from Maine, starting with our season opener, “In the Shadow of Ludwig Van . . “ and going through the season with you.

I know you’re all going to LOVE this season’s offerings – and I guarantee it will be a fitting continuation of the Claflin Hill “mystique” that has become our trademark as an orchestra.

Watch for more news soon, and by the way, if you haven’t been to Family Night at the Bandstand, be sure to put that on your calendar –every Tuesday night at Milford Town Park through August 23rd.   And Claflin Hill will be visiting Grafton, Whitinsville and Blackstone coming up this summer too!

Off to Maine.  I have to go pack the boat now.

Paul Surapine

American Dreamscapes- Epilogue

So now it’s Monday after the CHSO Season Finale, and I’m closing the books on another year – our sixteenth consecutive season.

Over the past month we’ve been talking about the program for the season finale– building excitement and anticipation amongst both our audience and orchestra members– and then it was concert week.   We immersed in intense rehearsals to put together this complex program in three nights of practice – coordinating new vocal charts, narrators, navigating through the intricacies of Leonard Bernstein’s masterful West Side Story, and then it was concert night and I was so intensely focused on getting through each part of the program, that I wasn’t aware of it as a whole.

After the concert, I was almost in a fog.  All that was running through my mind at the time was, “It’s over, I think it was good.”   People were coming up to myself and orchestra members exclaiming praise on the event that night.   I know the “America the Beautiful” was an effective encore after the evening’s flow – everyone in the hall was on their feet singing strongly – it was like a sudden “Flash Mob” – and for a moment, I was brought to tears.

We all adjourned to the Caffe Sorrento to unwind, have some great food, and share stories.   I was still kind of in a stupor.   It’s over, the season is done.   Was it as good a finale as the season deserved?  Was I at my best?   I think it was a similar feeling to “post partem!”

Below is the message I sent out today to the orchestra. It pretty much sums up my feeling today about the night, our orchestra, and our audience.

“I just want to thank you all and congratulate you on a phenomenal Season Finale on Saturday night – a truly appropriate climax to an already amazing and stellar season.

It was a complex and varied program, with all the new charts, and the constantly changing instrument set up, and dealing with a singer and narrators to boot.  (Imagine, we were thinking of also doing a projected image package on the screen along with it, and the TV station had wanted to bring a new 30-foot camera boom to extend over the orchestra to get some better individual camera angles on you!!!!!)

After the concert, I was so mentally exhausted, I wasn’t even sure how happy I was with the concert!  I thought we had done a pretty good job with everything, but I wasn’t sure it was as great as I hoped or that I was as perfect as I wanted to be.   I know the audience seemed pretty ecstatic over it.

I just finished watching a video clip of the entire Bernstein, shot by Bernadette up in the side balcony.   Watch this clip and relive this stellar moment!

I was astounded.    Astonished, humbled, moved, proud, and grateful for the privilege of working with you all as fellow musicians and community advocates.

The performance was worthy of national broadcast, and going viral so we can share your great artistry with the world.

The GORGEOUS orchestra sound, and especially of the strings in the elegiac slow moments in the Bernstein – reminiscent of the Intermezzo from Cavaleria Rusticana --  the perfect intonation in the woodwinds in those moments, the power and percussive force of our brass and percussionists – and the total emotion, intensity and energy of all you brought our audience a profound rendering of Lenny’s masterwork – creating a moving narrative and morality play for our community – a fitting centerpiece to the theme of the evening.

And I know that our Claflin Hill audience and supporters feel the same way about THEIR orchestra.

It is INDEED quite a feat we’ve all accomplished together – the creation of a vibrant, musical culture and a community – sharing great music, educating young people, a workplace for great musicians to create together and be a family, and an audience that participates in a true communal sense – supporting, engaging in dialogue and sharing with friends and enlarging the circle.

Thank you again to all – orchestra members, audience members, board members, donors and corporate sponsors.   And CONGRATULATION to ALL of YOU.   You have made this happen.

Stay tuned, for there’s more to come. . . . .

Paul Surapine

 

The Dream Lives On: The Kennedy Brothers

I was really too young to remember the years of “Camelot” and “The New Frontier, ” but I’ve often told people that I have three mental images from childhood that I can turn to as my “earliest memories.”  All of them have linkage to our upcoming season finale next Saturday, “American Dreamscapes.”

I was probably three years old, (I was born in July of 1959), and I can remember an afternoon, perhaps in the winter, when my mother was watching over me and my baby brother.   She was ironing my father’s shirts and handkerchiefs in the den, while watching afternoon television, and I was playing on the floor.

There was a man on the television screen, in pretty much a “full face camera angle” talking.  I asked my mother who this guy was, and she answered, “That’s the President of our country, and he’s talking to the people.”  Well, to my three year old mind, he seemed a bit boring, and I wished he would talk faster and get done, so we could return to watching the afternoon cartoons!

I can, however, remember the image of that face, imprinted indelibly in my memory – the square, handsome face, the eyes as they danced and his smile as he quipped and bantered with the reporters in the witty way for which he was known.

That image will remain forever in the memories of many Americans, as we didn’t get to watch him age He will be forever young, handsome and vital – an image that transferred over into the outlook and spirit of the country in that short time. 

It was a time of optimism, of absolute “can do” spirit – the generation that had gone to war and saved the world from tyranny and horror was back home, raising families, moving out of the “triple-deckers” in the cities and buying new homes in the suburbs – each of them taking hold of their piece of the American Dream, and building their own little castle and estate.

We had a President who was of that generation, and he had a stunning and cultured wife, and his beautiful children ran and played in the White House – bringing youth and new energy to its staid halls.

And his words inspired us – whether you voted for him or not – his words rang and resonated in every American’s psyche – not the tired old adages of old men politicians – but words that inspired a new sense of patriotism, of community, of working together and especially of a world that could and must be a better place for all.

After the tragedy of his assassination, the torch passed to his brother Bobby, and then to Teddy – as a nation struggled to hang onto that moment of shining optimism – to keep the fragile flame alive for a moment longer – to bring back that brief moment of Camelot.  

Their collective words and ideals remain today, hopefully still inspiring new generations of Americans and world citizens to the “better angels of our nature” to borrow from Abraham Lincoln. 

As we bring our 2015-16 Claflin Hill Season to a close, we will be performing Grammy nominated composer Peter Boyer’sThe Dream Lives On – A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers.” I believe it would be good for every citizen to revisit the words of Jack, Bobby and Teddy – even as we continue through another Presidential election campaign that has been less than inspiring to any of us.   Perhaps a better remembrance of their words and of the time we came from can better temper and inform our outlooks on the future we need to build for our children.  The “Dream of America” still exists in our hearts and minds and it is our responsibility to curate it, nurture and hold its flame up high for an entire world who is also still searching for that dream.

Oh, and the other two memories I still hold in my head from when I was three years old were also both on TV.  The first was seeing John Glenn step out of his space capsule onto the deck of an aircraft carrier after his historic orbital flight, returning from a journey that was started by that young American President, John F. Kennedy. The second was of Leonard Bernstein, conducting one of his Sunday afternoon “Young Peoples Symphony” broadcasts on CBS. 

What a time that was.  I look forward to seeing you Saturday to share the dream!

Paul Surapine

"It's Frank's World- We just live in it."

Part 3

I think everyone has a fascination with Frank Sinatra.  I was too young to see him in his prime – especially during the time of the resurgence of his career after his great role in “From Here to Eternity” but he was a presence in everyone’s cultural awareness even when I was growing up.  (My late Uncle Joe Romano always wore a pin that said – “IT’S FRANK’S WORLD – we just live in it!”

Frank was the “Elvis” or “Beatles” of his generation – driving millions of teen age “bobby-sockers” to scream and swoon – as he began his career as a singer with Tommy Dorsey’s Big Band.  Frank was more than a “band singer;” he wanted to learn from the musicians how to use his magnificent gift of a voice like a musician. 

One of my earliest memories of Frank – aside from hearing my Dad say that “It Was a Very Good Year” was his favorite song – was seeing him in a movie with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine called “Some Came Running.”  I don’t think it gained him any raves or notice, but I really liked the movie and was sympathetic to Sinatra’s character. It was one of a string of movies in his “down” period, when people wondered if he was fading. 

And then came “From Here to Eternity.”  Following that, more roles, such as Nathan Detroit in “Luck Be a Lady” began a new beginning of his singing career. 

There was the added “cachet” of his private but very public life – the friendships and marriages with the “glitterati” of the time – Ava Gardner, the Rat Pack – Dino, Sammyand Peter Lawford – and his friendship with the Kennedy boys.  He was an icon of that time, and a very well-polished and well-matured idol!

My wife Susan and I have been going to the Caffé Sorrento for as long as we’ve lived on Claflin Hill – going on 25 years now.   On Saturdays, there has always been music – sometimes live and sometimes with a DJ and Karaoke.   For over 10 years, we’ve been listening to a young man sing Sinatra, and from the first times I’d hear him, I was always astounded at the musicianship and art that he brought to his re-creations of Frank’s favorite hits.  I’ve always told people, “close your eyes and you’ll think Frank Sinatra from 1963 had just walked in the room!”

That vocalist – Tommy Gatturna – is actually a union plumber by day and trade, and he’s never had a formal voice lesson in his life.  He has always been fascinated by the work of Frank Sinatra, and studied and listened to all of his phrasing and nuances – he is pretty much a “self-taught” singer.   I think he received some valuable tips, advice and support from Franco the D.J. – along-time fixture at the Sorrento and a former Berklee professor. Tommy has only gotten better as the years have gone by -- just like the last verse from “It Was a Very Good Year” – ”And now I think of my life as a vintage wine from fine old kegs.”

Tommy Gatturna, Vocalist

Tommy Gatturna, Vocalist

I always wanted to perform many of the classic Sinatra tunes from his early Sixties “Reprise” album – great songs with great orchestrations arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, and Tommy and I would often talk about how we could do that.  Several years ago, we presented a special “Gala Benefit Event” for Claflin Hill, and with Milford’s own legendary Jerry Seeco, brought the idea to reality.  Jerry worked for months – listening to those old recordings and re-creating his own arrangements of those great songs and ballads for us to perform with Tommy. 

As a matter of fact, I also met Jerry Seeco at the Caffé Sorrento, many years ago – it’s always been a hot spot and a “hang” for musicians and lovers of great music.

On April 30th, Tommy and Jerry join us at Claflin Hill Symphony for our Season Finale – “American Dreamscapes.”   We’re looking forward to bringing these great musical charts back to life, presenting Tommy’s great artistry and heart to our CHSO Subscription audience, and paying tribute to a time in our past, when all seemed right with the world and the American Dream was thriving.

How the arts open our minds and our hearts.

It seems altogether fitting that we close out this season with a performance of the Symphonic Dances from Leonard Bernstein’s fabled “West Side Story” – our own “American” version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” – fresh on the heels of our performances in February of both Sergei Prokofiev and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music based on the same story.

West Side Story was indeed a groundbreaking Broadway production that included a “Dream Team” of creative talent: music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography by Jerome Robbins, and produced by Hal Prince.

Bernstein integrated ethnic Puerto Rican dance rhythms and motifs into his score which, up to that point, was probably one of the most difficult Broadway shows to play as a musician. 

Taking the story of the Montagues and the Capulets, and setting it down in West Side New York City – changing the antagonists from patrician and wealthy feuding families to blue collar Irish Catholics at odds with the most recent “immigrants” into their turf, the Puerto Ricans made the story come alive for a new generation of audience who could actually identify with the characters being portrayed on the stage.

West Side Story became a “Morality” play for a generation – speaking of social issues such as acceptance, tolerance, and the “Dream of America” – whether it should be for everyone, or just those who were already here.

But then, Broadway has always used the stage as a “bully pulpit” – the numerous shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein illuminated many social issues, such as date rape, (Oklahoma), wife beating, (Carousel), inter-racial relationships, (South Pacific), and even Nazis, (The Sound of Music).

Kalmen Opperman

Kalmen Opperman

I was only one or two years old when West Side Story was running on Broadway.  My future clarinet teacher, Kalmen Opperman played in the original orchestra!   I remember my Mother saying that she and my Dad went on a trip to New York City and saw West Side Story on Broadway.   In fact, I remember her saying they didn’t really like it at the time!

It was after all, a very different and “gritty” Broadway show – a polar opposite from the Rodgers and Hammerstein productions that people were used to.   Its depiction of life in the tenements and slums of the lower West Side, together with the sometimes loud and dissonant music depicting gang fights was a culture shock to many people from the nice suburbs in the countryside.

In fact, although West Side Story was nominated for a number of Tony awards in its first year on Broadway, the award for Best Show went to “The Music Man” that year.   Moreover, Columbia Records initially declined to produce the original cast recording, saying it was “too depressing and difficult!”

In the end, both my parents, and countless millions in succeeding generations now love West Side Story, and it will stand forever as one of the greatest and most innovative shows in the musical theater – and yes, it remains for us as a “morality” play and musical civic lesson as we still continue the dialogue on the “American Dream” and the “melting pot” that has made America great.

At Claflin Hill, we’re all relishing the opportunity to “dig into” Lenny Bernstein’s masterful score and share it with you, as we continue our musical journey and exploration, bringing to culmination another amazing season right here in Our Town.

Paul Surapine