Small town orchestra produces big sound

Kennett Square is the smallest town in the U.S. that supports a professional symphony orchestra, according to Kennett Symphony Board President Paul Merluzzi.

He told a sold-out crowd at Longwood Gardens of the organization’s debt to supporters to keep the orchestra going and growing. The occasion was the spring concert Sunday, April 3, which included a salute to a longtime supporter, the late F.M. Mooberry.

Kennett Square Mayor Matthew Fetick told the audience that the ticket sales for Kennett Symphony are up this year for its 75th anniversary celebration. He told of plans to reach a broader audience. This anniversary year marked the first time there was a free concert – at the Mushroom Festival in September. According to Fetick, 50 percent of the listeners had never heard a live symphony orchestra before.

Another orchestra outreach is the personal interaction offered by conductor Michael Hall. For the concert, Hall offered a pre-concert discussion of the works to be played. More than half of the audience showed up an hour early to hear the pre-concert presentation.

Hall believes knowing about the work can enhance your appreciation. He likened learning about the musical pieces to when you have earphones to tell you about a piece of art you are looking at. Of course you can enjoy looking at the picture, but learning more about it can enhance the experience. After the performance, one of the members of the audience said that she had heard Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 many times, but having heard Halls description of the different movements gave her new appreciation.

Hall described Beethoven’s symphony as expressing the struggle between darkness and light, minor keys finally resolving to C major. Hall played recorded excerpts and jumped to the keyboard to illustrate different passages.  He feels that the trauma of Beethoven’s encroaching deafness made the composer dig deeply, resulting in one of the most appreciated symphonies of all time.

The concert opened with “Clair de Lune” played by Janet Witman on the harp in honor of FM Mooberry. A guest violin soloist, Margaret Dziekonski, played Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64.” After intermission, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” was played.

The concert was the first time the Kennett Symphony had performed in the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens. The symphony’s outdoor concerts at Longwood Gardens have been a regular event in August for many years, but the conservatory presented new performance challenges. According to Hall, “Every venue has its own challenges.” Hall likes the acoustics of the conservatory, although rehearsals during the day can be a problem with the sun shining through the glass ceiling. One of the musicians had to wear sunglasses for the rehearsal.

The venue provided guests with a treat for another sense not usually found at a musical performance. The lilies were in full bloom and fragrance in the conservatory.

The Violin Concerto was appreciated with a standing ovation, as was the Beethoven symphony.  Descendants of one of the Kennett Symphony founders, Ray Ott, were in the audience.

Artists converse with the audience after the concert. From left to right: Concertmaster Eliezer Gutman, Conductor Michael Hall, Soloist Margaret Dziekonski, and Principal Oboe Terence Belzer

Artists converse with the audience after the concert. From left to right: Concertmaster Eliezer Gutman, Conductor Michael Hall, Soloist Margaret Dziekonski, and Principal Oboe Terence Belzer

The second part Hall’s outreach came after the concert. The audience was invited to stay and talk to the conductors and a few performers.  About one third of the audience stayed. They were intrigued by the guest soloist. Still a graduate student at The Royal Academy of Music, London, Dziekonski seemed young to demonstrate technical skill and perform with such poise. Hall said he came to know about Dziekonski from Timothy Blair, Dean of West Chester Music.

In the post-concert interview, Dziekonski was asked how long it took for her to learn the Mendelssohn concerto she had played. She said she first played the piece two years ago, but preparation for this concert took three months.  West Chester resident, Pam Hesler, said that she knows Dziekonski’s future in-laws and that when Dziekonski is in town she practices five hours a day. Hesler said the concert was “fantastic.”

Dziekonski plays a J.B. Vuillaume, which was made in 1860. The instrument is on loan from the Royal Academy of Music.

The symphony’s 75th anniversary celebration will be Saturday, June 11, at the Stone Barn in Kennett Square.  Tickets will go on sale mid-April. http://www.kennettsymphony.org/

The next concert is “Postcards From Abroad” which will be held in the outdoor amphitheater at Longwood Gardens on Aug. 13. Ticket price includes the concert, free parking, all day admission to Longwood Gardens on the day of the concert, and access to Nightscape: A Light and Sound Experience at Longwood after the concert.

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About Emily Myers

Emily Myers has lived and worked in Chadds Ford for over thirty years.  She founded the parent company of Chadds Ford Live, Decision Design Research, Inc., in 1982.  ChaddsFordLive.com represents the confluence of Myers' long time, deep involvement in technology and community. Myers was a founding member of the Chadds Ford Business Association and currently serves on its board of directors.  Her hobbies include bridge, golf, photography and Tai Chi. She lives with her husband, Jim Lebedda, in Chadds Ford Township.

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