Symphony in C Takes Audiences of All Ages on "Musical Adventures"
You have likely heard of Symphony in C, the orchestra-formerly-known-as-The-Haddonfield-Symphony, and maybe you have seen them perform. But I wonder if you know (and I admit I did NOT) that, for close to two decades, Symphony in C has been a training orchestra. In fact, it is one of just three professional training orchestras in the United States.
Founded in 1952 as The Haddonfield Symphony, it began as a community orchestra that offered an opportunity for amateur musicians to perform for audiences in Haddonfield and surrounding communities.
Time passed, and the Symphony evolved. During the 1987-1988 season, for example, the Professional Development Internship Program was introduced. And over the next 13 years, the program expanded tremendously.
In 1991, the position of Assistant Conductor was established, and Alan Gilbert, the first person to hold the position, took it a step further. After being named Music Director, Gilbert appointed the first conductor-in-residence, and also established a Young Composer’s Competition.
These and other changes helped Symphony in C define and carry out its mission, which is to prepare musicians and conductors for artistic careers through concerts, educational outreach and professional development programs.
“To go from an all-volunteer community orchestra to what we are today has been a major shift,” explained Pamela Brant, Symphony in C’s president. “But, by 2000, our internship program had grown to encompass all 78 positions within the orchestra.
“It was a gradual, steady changeover,” she said.
This change also impacted the Symphony’s programs and outreach.
“There is the training that goes on within the orchestra,” Brant said, “but we also want our musicians to be teaching artists and good citizens, and to share with the greater community.”
This component of the Symphony’s mission may be most clearly demonstrated in its annual Concert for Young People. This year’s event, “Musical Adventures,”will be presented on Thursday, February 25, at 10:00 a.m. at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingswood.
Although the concert is open to the public and often attracts families, the audience is primarily made up of groups of school children – aged 4 or 5 through early teens.
“The concert is different every year,” Brant told me. And this one is even more special because the Symphony’s new-ish music director is conducting. “This is not the norm,” Brant said, “but because [Stilian] Kirov is a recent addition to the Symphony in C family, we thought that the Youth Concert was a great way to introduce him.”
The program itself offers some surprises, Joseph Hart, Vice President of Artistic Operations and Education, told me.
“We typically do popular children’s works, like ‘Toy Symphony’ or Prokofiev’s crowd-pleasing ‘Peter and the Wolf’,” Hart said. But this year, they chose to highlight an orchestra’s individual parts.
There will be one of each instrument – flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, percussion/timpani – as well as three first violins, three second violins, two violas, two celli and one double bass.
“So, instead of big orchestral pieces with everything in them but the kitchen sink,” Hart said, “we’re presenting more of a chamber version.”
Not only does this make for a more accessible, intimate performance, Hart said this structure is also beneficial to the musicians.
“Normally, we choose the repertoire, give the musicians the music and then they show up, rehearse and perform,” Hart said. “But a concert like this helps them learn something new and diversify their skills.”
When they were putting together the program, Hart told me there were also a few particular points they tried to hit, such as showcasing the role of the conductor.
He explained – as I nodded vigorously on the other end of the phone line – that people often don’t quite understand what a conductor does.
So, during the overture to Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Kirov will demonstrate to the audience exactly how the musicians respond when he changes his conducting style.
Simple as that.
A concert like this is a wonderful learning experience for the young musicians and the audience, and it also stretches the imagination of the creative staff as well, who had to do some “re-orchestrating” to make everything work.
“It is exciting, and challenging, to put together your own show,” Hart said, “rather than to simply play the pieces everyone likes.”
In addition to the yearly Concert for Young Audiences, Symphony in C runs a successful summer camp program, which has recently turned into a full year-round youth orchestra.
He pointed out that there are several quality musical training opportunities for children in Philadelphia, but “not so much on our side of the river.”“We are very excited about that,” Hart said.
And this is an equal opportunity orchestra, Hart told me. “There are no auditions,” he said, “and although the kids are dedicated and want to be there, they also want to have fun.”
The Youth Orchestra is run by Symphony in C’s director of education, Maestro Kenneth Bean. “The kids really love him,” Hart said.
“And one of the coolest things about this orchestra,” continued Hart, “is that the kids get to work side-by-side during weekly rehearsals with Symphony in C musicians.
“They act as section leaders, and they take turns helping the kids,” said Hart. “It’s a great model, and allows the kids to develop a mentoring relationship with performing musicians.”
So, again, we come back to the important and central aspect of teaching and sharing.
“Everything we do is education,” Hart said.
Concerts for Young People: “Musical Adventures” will take place Thursday, February 25 at 10:00 a.m. at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingswood. Stilian Kirov will conduct with Elizabeth Fayette, Megan Emigh and Amit Melzer will narrate.
Symphony in C’s series of spring concerts, presented at Rutgers-CamdenCenter for the Arts, begin on Saturday, February 27. Click here for the schedule.