New Orchestra Gets Ready For \'A Mercyhurst Christmas\'

The renamed, relaunched Mercyhurst Civic Orchestra prepares a holiday program featuring "Lieutenant Kije," "Gloria" and more during Sunday's concert.

By John Chacona / Contributing writer

“It’s too sterile,” conductor Jonathan Moser said as he borrowed the concertmaster’s violin to demonstrate a figure from Antonio Vivaldi’s "Gloria" in D.

“Vivaldi was the fiery priest, red hair and all,” he added, neatly delivering a lesson not only in the mechanics of music, but also its spirit.

His audience was the roughly three-dozen members of the Mercyhurst Civic Orchestra during a recent rehearsal for Sunday's "A Mercyhurst Christmas." All but a handful of the players practicing in the Hirt Academic Building were Mercyhurst students, many of whom played in the Mercyhurst Chamber Orchestra from which the new ensemble was formed earlier this fall.

The renamed, relaunched orchestra now welcomes members from the community, an experiment in harmonious, town-and-gown music making that Moser hopes will be rewarding for all — himself included.

“The students get to have a true orchestral experience that is rare in a music department the size of Mercyhurst’s," Moser said, "and the orchestra gives community members a place to play."

Though much of the work of the orchestra — and most of the learning — is done in rehearsal, Moser understands the importance of building toward a performance.

As the Mercyhurst Chamber Orchestra, the group only performed two concerts a year.

“It wasn’t enough to keep people’s interest," Moser said. "We’re asking community members who could be semi-professional players to join us. We had to up our game.“

To do that, Moser doubled the number of concerts. The orchestra, which had its first concert on Oct. 29, will close out the year with a holiday concert, also featuring the Mercyhurst Concert Choir, on Sunday. But in the spring, the orchestra will conduct a concerto competition and be in the pit for the D’Angelo Department of Music’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Rigoletto.”

It’s an ambitious schedule, but he's been down this road before. Moser, who was a violinist for the Erie Philharmonic from 2004 to 2011, conducted a community orchestra in Wilmington, Delaware, before returning to Erie to teach at Mercyhurst, lead the second violin section of the Erie Phil and, just recently announced, serve as the new music director of the Erie Jr. Philharmonic. Moser also played in community orchestras in his native Pittsburgh.

“Community orchestras are collegial and welcome to everyone," he said, "and that’s influenced my approach to teaching in general."

None of the 45 players of the Mercyhurst Chamber Orchestra are paid. They rehearse every Thursday evening for three hours with a short break — more rehearsal time per concert than most professional orchestras enjoy.

That’s by design. Moser has programmed challenging material for his orchestra. Sunday’s concert features Sergei Prokofiev’s glittering “Lieutenant Kijé” suite in a rarely heard version with baritone ad lib (by former Mercyhurst teacher James Bobick) and Vivaldi's "Gloria" in D (RV 589) with the students in the Mercyhurst Concert Choir. Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” is a richly flavored treat on the program as well, and a sing-along will round out the evening.

The orchestra’s debut concert in October included Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and Antonín Dvorak's Violin Concerto with Moser as soloist — not lightweight pieces. And the public reception was encouraging.

Mercyhurst Civic Orchestra’s players, too, are responding with enthusiasm.

Hannah Bayard is one of the youngest members. A home-schooled violinist, Bayard lives in Chautauqua County in western New York, and appreciates “being able to play with such a diverse group and being able to make beautiful music with so many people.

"Being in a college orchestra as a high-school student is a real plus, too,” she added.

Stephen Colantti has perhaps had the most notable public career of any of the orchestra’s members, having sung leading roles with the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center, with the Dallas Opera and at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. But those engagements were as an operatic tenor.

In the Mercyhurst's orchestra the viola is his voice.

“I hadn’t played it for 30, 40 years, but I always loved the sound,” he said.

The music world’s ubiquitous jokes about the largely unsung viola don’t bother Colantti. “I like being anonymous. I’m fifth violist, and you can’t get much more anonymous than that,” he laughed, adding, “but I’ve always loved symphonic music and I like being part of this great music.”

Colleen Shah is another experienced musician who joined the orchestra to try something new, trading her oboe for a cello.

“Oboe is a marathon, and reed-making and keeping my chops up got to be too much when you’re a mom." She’s a beginning cellist, but appreciates the challenge of learning her instrument on the job.

“This pushed me beyond where I thought I could be, two or three levels beyond where I would be without this experience," she said. "Sitting in an orchestra with that ascension to beauty, you ride on the sound of others and get to be part of something bigger than what you’d get in a practice room.”

HEAR IT

"A Mercyhurst Christmas," featuring the Mercyhurst Civic Orchestra and Concert Choir, will be presented Sunday, 4 p.m., at the university's Mary D'Angelo Performing Arts Center. General admission $5; $2 for Mercyhurst students, faculty and persons 12 and under. For tickets, call 824-3000 or visit http://miac.mercyhurst.edu. More details about the orchestra, visit http://bit.ly/2ijneRk.

 

ONLINE EXTRAS

Go behind-the-scenes of a recent practice with the Mercyhurst Concert Choir by visiting GoErie.com/videos.

Source : http://www.goerie.com/entertainmentlife/20171207/new-orchestra-gets-ready-for-a-mercyhurst-christmas

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