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

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

 

 

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.