by Carol DeFrank
CULTURE IS THRIVING in Fort Myers. The Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 50th year providing the community with outstanding and inspired music, marking the milestone with a season-long celebration of classical and pops concerts.
Music Director, Maestro Michael Hall expressed his excitement about the upcoming season. I am pleased to present a program full of magnificent music and plenty of surprises. Our fiftieth season exemplifies the artistic standards that have made our symphony one of the regions treasures.
The season began in October and ends in April. The first and last concerts of the season feature commissioned music written specifically to celebrate the anniversary Its exciting to play and hear two new compositions that are wonderful and challenging.
During the opening concert the audience enjoyed a masterwork written by Paul Richards, associate professor of composition at the University of Florida. Our fiftieth anniversary committee conducted a statewide contest to find complementary lyrics for the professors music. Submissions were presented to the composer who chose the writing of one of our own violinists, Rachel Cox, as the winner.
The last classical concert of our anniversary season will feature a piece by composer and arranger James Stephenson. He created it especially for his friend, our principal flutist, William Larsen, who is celebrating 28 years with the symphony. Its a wonderful piece that we cant wait to share with the audience.
The remainder of the series will consist of a wide variety of music, including the recreation of the original 1961 concert.
This year my aspiration is to broaden our audience, says Hall. People have a preconceived notion about symphonic concerts. They dont realize its more of an emotional and visual experience than an intellectual one. If they would just give themselves a chance to discover the power of the music, I think theyd be surprised at how much they enjoy it.
According to Hall, who also oversees the Youth Orchestra, the Pops program has scheduled an impressive anniversary program as well. They will be presenting a tribute to Motown as well as music from television variety shows of the 50s and 60s. Our anniversary is not only about the music, its also about the people who have supported this organization and helped guide it throughout its tenure. One of our past conductors, Carl Topilow, is one of those people. He will entertain the audience with his colorful clarinets and sounds of swing.
The series will conclude with a spectacular project. The first portion will feature the youth orchestra performing side-by-side with the symphony orchestra. The second half of the evening will be a premier collaboration of the symphony with the Florida Repertory Theater. The two groups will join forces to depict the immigrant experience in the production of Ellis Island The Dream of America.
The Symphony Chorus will also shine this season. As the new Interim Director of Choruses, Timonthy McDonnell is excited about being a part of the organization during such an important year. Ive given serious consideration to the anniversary program. After becoming familiar with the characteristics of chorus members and observing their strengths and weaknesses, Im happy with the selections. The chorus will be challenged, which I think is necessary for growth, but they will also shine.
McDonnells short-term goal is to expand the chorus from 100 to 150 members by the Christmas performance. Within 24 hours of being hired, I was on the phone contacting the music directors of area churches. There is so much talent in church choirs. I would like the opportunity to show the members how they can serve their community as well as their church.
I am confident that growth is possible because being a part of a vocal group is so popular right now. He cites the Chorus America Impact Study done in 2003. It states estimated 32.5 million adults regularly sing in a chorus, up from 23.5 million. When children are included, the number jumps to 42.6 million singing Americans, up from 28.5 million. What really makes these numbers amazing is that only seven million children were involved in inner school athletics. Singing seems to be more popular than sports. McDonnell is also Director of Choral Activities at Ave Maria University.
But everything was different fifty years ago. Not as many people were involved in music. Maestro Hall reminisces, How exciting it must have been to put an orchestra together in a place like Fort Myers at that time in our history. Fort Myers wasnt what it is today, but then neither was the orchestra. Weve come a long way from that first performance when Maestro Arlo Deibler led a community orchestra of 24 members at Fort Myers High School. Because of the population explosion and the fact that we draw from all over Southwest Florida, musicians and vocalists must audition to win their place with the group.
The Symphony Chorus was formed in 1962, and the organization became known as the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Association. Maestro Deibler led the group for 25 years before passing the baton to Joseph Egger. There are now 130 vocalists under the direction of Joseph Caulkins. Since their inception they have performed more than 60 major choral works, recorded two CDs and toured five European countries.
In 1990, Paul Nadler was appointed Music Director and Conductor. He launched the Sanibel Series eight years later. In 2001, Topilow began conducting the Pops Series.
The symphony is committed to supporting and encouraging youth educational opportunities in Lee, Hendry, Glades and Charlotte counties. They allocate $100,000 annually to music education programs. The Ensembles in Schools program reaches approximately 4,500 students.
For more information about the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, call 418-0996.
from the November-December 2010 issue