REVIEW: Profound Artistry with George Li and Symphony Tacoma

By John Falskow
Interim Dean – Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Tacoma Community College

Saturday’s performance by George Li and Symphony Tacoma was one of the most special and memorable music events in our local arts history. Live music offers an amazing opportunity for people to connect. Sometimes across time and cultures the performing arts provide shared experiences that change us. Top to bottom – this Symphony Tacoma concert was exciting, polished, poetic, and touching.

Pianist George Li was absolutely stunning in his performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The 24 year-old pianist had command of the keyboard, and showed a complete array of musical expression possibilities. Muscular and grandiose louds contrasted intimate soft dynamics. Simple lines contrasted cascades of chromatic harmonies. It was magical and hypnotic to watch and hear Li perform. His cadenza in the first movement was spectacular. There was a moment where he seemed to play at least three musical ideas simultaneously; each independent line had its own expression, balance, and nuance. His power in fortissimo sections seemed to be unbelievably strong, with a punch and heft that sailed over the orchestra. One challenge is that Rachmaninov composed so many notes, so many dense textures, and many moving parts. Li was able to go far beyond managing the technical demands. He owned this performance. The expression, clear characters in sound, and an intense drama blew everyone in attendance away. Li is truly a shooting star, and we were in awe. I am told that musicians’ jaws dropped at rehearsal, when they found out that this would be both Li and Ioannides’ first public performance of the Rachmaninov. Bringing a musician of Li’s caliber to our community is what changes us, and inspires Tacoma to more fantastic artistry.

Under conductor Sarah Ioannides’ leadership, Symphony Tacoma complimented Li’s artistry with polish and inspiration. The admiration between the orchestra and soloist was visible – players smiling and looking at Li throughout the concerto. It was a treat to see the veil of professional stoicism lift, and to witness Ioannides, Li, and the orchestral musicians’ electric vibe that fueled their performance. This performance had the personal communication of chamber music through the large orchestra medium. The commitment to musical teamwork was most obvious in the magical woodwinds and horn solos, and the extreme soft passages with strings. Ioannides has cultivated a special ensemble for our community.

At the conclusion of the Rachmaninoff, the audience exploded into an energetic standing ovation. It did not take any convincing for Li to play an encore, Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” from the opera Orfeo and Euridice. It was spellbinding. After the bombastic and dense concerto, this was a lovely and sentimental contrast. Li played the mournful piece with simple clarity, and it was perfection. Everyone was on the edge of their seats. I was amazed as Li’s hands looked like liquid as the closing falling chords melted across our ears.

The concert opened with a minor mishap (or so I thought), in that Ioannides was ready to start David Ludwig’s Fanfare for Samuel Barber, but the orchestra had forgotten to tune! Concertmaster, Svend Rønning stood and the oboe gave the tuning A for the ensemble. The tuning A subtly became the first note of the fanfare, and the simple unison pitch actually blossomed into the exciting and intense composition. The A was a part of the piece! Full of angular rhythms and reaching melodies, the audience was escorted through different creative treatments of Barber’s ideas. A particular section of the fanfare used brilliant percussion accompanied by siren whistles in the woodwinds and horns. A handful of times the driving cacophony is silenced by a single searing note, played by principal trumpet Charles Butler. He was an amazing standout – with soaring and powerful high altitude playing. His brilliant tone was a pillar on which the orchestra clung.

Ludwig’s clever composition is dedicated to Samuel Barber, and uses material from his famous Adagio for Strings. Ludwig will be Symphony Tacoma’s composer in residence this year. He and his music will be featured throughout the season. On a personal note, Ludwig and Ioannides are connected through their education at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, where Samuel Barber was also a composition teacher.

The first half of the concert ended with Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. This standard work is a favorite in orchestral repertoire. Symphony Tacoma played the piece with polish and commitment. Ioannides paid obvious attention to details in articulation, especially in the playful third movement. She also helped draw out a rich blend and balance from the ensemble, with elegant exchanges of phrase between instrument sections. As the energy wound down in the final section of the fourth movement, it was obvious that we had experienced a new level of ensemble playing from the Symphony Tacoma.

Just in Time for the Holidays: Purchase a Symphony Tri-Pack

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The SYMPHONY TRI-PACK lets you choose any three concerts and SAVE 10% off the single ticket price PLUS receive all the benefits of a season subscriber:

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Symphony Tacoma Rings in the Season with Songs from Favorite Holiday Movies + Handel’s Messiah

The holidays are coming and Symphony Tacoma will present two concerts to celebrate the season. From favorite holiday movie songs to Handel’s beloved Messiah, the programs offer something for everyone.

Holiday Favorites

On Sunday, December 8, the Pantages Theater stage will be teeming with singers, musicians and joy when Symphony Tacoma presents Holiday Favorites, its annual collage of seasonal delights for the whole family. This year’s program features choral masterpieces and festive arrangements that evoke holiday spirit and feelings of celebrations at home. Selections from favorite movies including Home Alone, Frozen, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express, among others, will delight young audience members. Nostalgic classics such as O Holy Night, Tchaikovsky’s March of the Toy Soldiers from The Nutcracker and Lucas Richman’s Hanukah Festival Overture will further draw out the spirit of the season.

Joining the Symphony Tacoma orchestra on stage will be the Tacoma Refugee Choir, “a welcoming community of refugees, immigrants and friends who sing together to extend love, hope, and unconditional belonging,” under the direction of Erin Guinup. Guinup, also an accomplished soprano, will be the featured soloist on select numbers. Tacoma Youth Chorus, always a favorite for this program, completes the vocal line-up.

Holiday Favorites is sponsored by MultiCare, Columbia Bank, Stadium Thriftway, The News Tribune and South Sound Magazine.
Tickets: $24 to $85

Handel’s Messiah

Perhaps the world’s most well-known and beloved choral work, George Frederick Handel’s Messiah has transcended its time and place to become a “work of the people” shared by audiences and musicians around the world. This holiday classic oratorio will be conducted by Dr. Geoffrey Boers and performed by the talented Symphony Tacoma orchestra and vocalists of Symphony Tacoma Voices.

Handel was fascinated by human feelings and experience, and Messiah is his musical depiction of the human experience of the divine. Originally intended for the Easter season, it is now closely associated with Christmas. Audience members customarily stand during its most well-known segment, the “Hallelujah Chorus” following the tradition set by King George II who, according to legend, leapt to his feet when he first heard it.

Featured soloists include Leann Conley-Holcom, soprano; Soon Cho, mezzo-soprano; Brandon Tuohy, tenor; and Zachary Lenox, bass. The 75-member Symphony Tacoma Voices includes professional singers and gifted amateurs who perform regularly in concert with Symphony Tacoma and in stand-alone engagements.

Messiah is sponsored by Connelly Law, CHI Franciscan and Pierce County Television (PCTV).
Tickets: $30 (general) | $48 (reserved)

Symphony Tacoma’s Karina Bharne One of Only Twelve Orchestra Professionals Nationwide Selected for League of American Orchestras’ Emerging Leaders Program

Symphony Tacoma Executive Director Karina Bharne is one of only twelve orchestra professionals participating in the League of American Orchestras’ Emerging Leaders Program, the field’s prime source for identifying and cultivating the leadership potential of talented orchestra professionals.

The competitive eight-month program began this week with a three-day meeting in New York City and also includes one-to-one coaching, in-depth seminars led by leadership experts, visits with leaders in cultural and performing arts institutions, virtual convenings, and a capstone project culminating at the League’s 2020 National Conference in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN (June 10-12, 2019). The curriculum develops participants’ individual leadership capabilities and advances strategic thinking, resiliency, and innovation throughout the orchestra field.

“I am honored to be a part of this esteemed cohort and am looking forward to strengthening my leadership capabilities,” said Bharne. “Through the seminars, in-person meetings and virtual convenings, I look forward to deepening my impact on the Tacoma community through my work with Symphony Tacoma.”

“These twelve professionals are stewards of our field’s future,” said President and CEO Jesse Rosen. “They will hone their leadership skills and strategic vision through this flagship League of American Orchestras’ leadership development program, while building a cohort of colleagues they can learn from in years to come.”

Bharne began her tenure with Symphony Tacoma in September 2018. Prior to this, she was the Interim Executive Director with the San Antonio Symphony (January 2018 through July 2018) during a period of significant organizational change for the orchestra. She also served as the General Manager and Director of Orchestra Personnel with the San Antonio Symphony, as well as in a variety of operational roles with Goh Ballet in Vancouver, BC, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival and School, and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. She received her BFA in Trombone Performance and MA in Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Launched in 2014, the Emerging Leaders Program is the newest chapter in the League’s history of developing orchestral leaders. Along with its previous iteration, the Orchestra Management Fellowship Program, the Emerging Leaders Program has advanced the development of more than 200 alumni—now executive directors and senior executives of orchestras.

Additional League leadership and professional development programs have included the Executive Leadership Programs, Institutional Vision and Critical Issues programs, American Conducting Fellowship Program, and Essentials of Orchestra Management.

The Emerging Leaders Program is made possible by generous grants from American Express, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

REVIEW: Symphony Tacoma’s Romeo and Juliet Collaboration = Big Win for Community

By John Falskow
Interim Dean – Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Tacoma Community College

On October 19th, Sarah Ioannides and Symphony Tacoma performed music from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. Produced in the historical Pantages Theater of downtown Tacoma, this performance was a unique collaboration for our community—including not only the full symphony orchestra, but also actors and students from Tacoma’s School of the Arts. This performance was a fantastic experience that blended drama and orchestra into a touching and profound live performance experience.

The staging for the orchestra and actors was an engaging use of space.  Behind the large orchestra, a raised platform stage flanked by stairs. The front portion of the stage was lowered to the audience level. As the music was performed the characters from the play would walk in front of the orchestra, behind them, and even (on one occasion) into the orchestra. Clever use of the side box seats provided context for the famous balcony scene. This was a modern, creative staging for this music and acting—impressive and relevant work from our local arts community.

My initial concern was that the performance would be Romeo and Juliet as a drama with incidental music happening underneath the stage action. However, this production was all about the orchestra music, and the acting provided reference to the story the music was telling. The flow of the performance felt natural, and Prokofiev’s score was always the center of attention.

That said, the School of the Arts actors were touching and sincere in bringing the characters to life.  Congratulations to actors Elizabeth (Libby) Patsiga (Romeo), Annabelle Daniel (Juliet), Alexandra Vilenius (Tybalt), Westley Hackler (Mercutio), Gabriel McPherson (narrator and stage director), and Mark Thomason (technical director). The orchestral performance was gilded with their acting and narration, creating a rich context for storytelling in sound, words and actions.

The balcony scene was especially tender and touching. The young ages of the actors reflected the innocence and passion of their Shakespearean characters. The loving words of Romeo were highlighted with shimmering harmonies from the orchestra. Believable excitement, nervousness, passion and romance all delivered through Prokofiev’s music, Symphony Tacoma’s artistry, and words from Shakespeare.

The music was selected from the three Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet ballet suites. In this performance, the different ballet sections were re-ordered to fit with the plot of the play. Prokofiev’s scoring is colorful, rhythmically driven, and often angular in melody and harmony.  Symphony Tacoma musicians played the tricky parts with precision and flare. The brass sections played with power, resonance and a colorful heroic sheen. The percussion played with a sensitivity that propelled the music forward. Woodwind sections (including tenor saxophone) were both nimble and poetic. And the strings balanced contrasting roles of intensity and intimacy. Under Ioannides’ skilled leadership, this orchestra is playing at a very high level.

This Symphony Tacoma concert was a testament to the creativity and collaboration that our community thrives on. The audience received the performance with enthusiastic applause and admiration. The teamwork and creativity of Sarah Ioannides, School of the Arts, and the Symphony Tacoma musicians has provided a unique and profound shared experience in the performing arts.

 

Symphony Tacoma Welcomes Pianist George Li to Perform Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3

GEORGE LI PLAYS ENCHANTING RACHMANINOFF
Saturday, November 23 | 7:30 pm
Pantages Theater
Sarah Ioannides, conductor
George Li, piano

David Ludwig: Fanfare for Sam
Brahms: Symphony No. 3
Rachmaninoff:  Piano Concerto No. 3

Tacoma, WA— Symphony Tacoma and George Li will take on one of the most technically-challenging piano concertos in the standard classical repertoire in Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto, Saturday, November 23, 2019 at 7:30 pm in Tacoma’s Pantages Theater. The program will begin with Fanfare for Sam, a tribute to composer Samuel Barber written by Composer in Residence David Ludwig, and Brahms’ poetic Symphony No. 3.

At 24, George Li is one of the most talented classical pianists of his generation. Music Director Sarah Ioannides has performed with Li many time, first collaborating with him onstage with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela when he was just 12 years old. “I am very excited to bring George to Tacoma,” says Ioannides. “He is such an extraordinary musician—that was evident even when he was a tween! His gift for expression, his maturity, interpretation and technical ability are just astounding. The Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with George will be an amazing and lasting experience for all.”

Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto offers an immense challenge to stamina and endurance for the soloist, with minimal moments of respite. Uncommon for a concerto in the big Romantic tradition, Rachmaninoff saw the soloist as an alert, flexible, responsive musician who knows how to blend, accompany, and listen.

Also at the November concert, the orchestra will perform Fanfare for Sam by inaugural Composer in Residence David Serkin Ludwig. The grandson of pianist Rudolf Serkin and nephew of pianist Peter Serkin, Ludwig serves as chair of the composition faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music. He is a recipient of the prestigious Pew Center for Arts and Heritage Fellowship in the Arts and was named as one of the “Top 100 Composers Under Forty” in 2012. Additional works by Ludwig will be featured in the Symphony’s February and March programs, including a new commission entitled The Bleeding Pines.

According to Ludwig, “Fanfare for Sam is a tribute to that great American composer, Samuel Barber, a musical hero to me and to so many others that followed in his footsteps (literally) at the Curtis Institute as students. In thinking of Barber’s contribution to American music, I wanted the Fanfare to reflect a contemporary take on musical tradition; to mix the old with the new…[and] to feature each instrumental section of the orchestra as a celebration of all of its many colors and sounds.”

Completing the program is Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, the shortest of his four symphonies and perhaps his most personal. The top notes of the three opening chords are F – A flat – F. These three notes are the first letters of Brahms’ motto, in German, frei aber froh which translates to “free but happy.” A lifelong bachelor, Brahms had adopted the motto in response to the motto of his friend Joseph Joachim, frei aber einsam (free but lonely). Brahms used his three note motto in all four movements in different guises.

Prorated season ticket packages and single concert tickets ($24 to $83) are on sale through the Tacoma Arts Live box office. To order tickets, call 253-591-5894 or visit symphonytacoma.org. George Li Plays Enchanting Rachmaninoff is sponsored by MultiCare, University of Puget Sound and the Tacoma Philharmonic Endowment.

ABOUT THE GUEST ARTIST:

Praised by the Washington Post for combining “staggering technical prowess, a sense of command and depth of expression,” pianist George Li possesses an effortless grace, brilliant virtuosity and poised authority far beyond his years. He began playing piano at the age of four and made his first public performance at Boston’s Steinway Hall at the age of ten. Since winning the Silver Medal at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, Mr. Li has rapidly established a major international reputation and performs regularly with some of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors.

Mr. Li resides in Lexington, MA. He graduated from New England Conservatory Preparatory School, and later earned a dual degree program at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory in 2018. He was the recipient of the 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, a recipient of the 2012 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and the First Prize winner of the 2010 Young Concert Artists International Auditions.

Symphony Tacoma Recognizes Four Former Board Members as Directors Emeriti

In 2018, the Symphony Tacoma Board instituted the distinction of Director Emeritus to recognize former Board members who have honorably served in Board leadership roles as officers or committee/task force chairs and engaged in significant advocacy activities on behalf of the Symphony. The inaugural Director Emeritus was Dick Bowe who served on the Board for 12 years until his passing in 2017.

The new Directors Emeriti are:
Dick Ammerman
Karla Epperson
John Guadnola
Jim Shoemake

Each has served with distinction for more than 15. They will be recognized in this role in perpetuity.

Symphony Tacoma Board, staff and musicians would like to express our gratitude for their service to our organization.

Symphony Tacoma Opens 73rd Season with an Original Production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’

ROMEO & JULIET
Saturday, October 19 | 7:30 pm
Pantages Theater
Sarah Ioannides, conductor

Tacoma School of the Arts actors: Elizabeth (Libby) Patsiga, Annabelle Daniel and Alexandra Vilenius
Gabriel McPherson, narrator and stage director
Mark Thomason, technical director

Prokofiev: Three Suites from Romeo & Juliet

 

Tacoma, WA— Symphony Tacoma will open its 2019-2020 season on Saturday, October 19 at the Pantages Theater with an original production of Romeo and Juliet. This dramatic program combines Prokofiev’s heart-wrenching ballet score with excerpts from Shakespeare’s epic love story enacted by students from Tacoma’s School of the Arts (SOTA). The performance also marks the beginning Sarah Ioannides’ sixth season as music director.

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet has long been celebrated as a favorite with audiences as both a ballet score and an orchestral concert piece. Originally the movements in each suite were arranged into well-balanced sequences rather than structured narratively chronological. In this program, Ioannides reordered the suites and selected passages from Shakespeare’s play to tell the story of the famous star-crossed lovers.

SOTA students Libby Patsiga (Romeo), Annabelle Daniel (Juliet) and Alexandra Vilenius (Tybalt) will reprise their roles from SOTA’s 2018 production of Romeo and Juliet. SOTA’s Director of Theatrical Arts Gabriel McPherson will play the role of the narrator as well as serve as the stage director, and Director of Technical Theatre and Design Mark Thomason will technical direct the performance. The combination of the music interspersed with dramatic interludes in essence creates a symphonic poem.

Season ticket packages and single concert tickets ($24 to $83) are available through the Tacoma Arts Live box office by calling 253-591-5894 on online. Romeo and Juliet is sponsored by MultiCare, Gordon Thomas Honeywell, Pacific Northwest Eye Associates, The Gottfried and Mary Fuchs Foundation and Northwest Public Broadcasting.

ABOUT THE ACTORS:

Annabelle Daniel is a junior at Tacoma School of the Arts. She has acted in many productions in the past at Tacoma Youth Theatre but the role of Juliet in the 2018 production of Romeo and Juliet was her first role at SOTA. Outside of theatre, she participates in Girl Scouts and enjoys playing music.

Alexandra Vilenius is a junior at Tacoma School of the Arts. The role of Tybalt in the 2018 production of Romeo and Juliet was her first role at SOTA. She is excited to continue growing as an actress through the next two years with the SOTA theatre program.

Elizabeth (Libby) Patsiga is a junior at Tacoma School of the Arts. The role of Romeo in the 2018 production of Romeo and Juliet was her first of eight roles at SOTA to date.

Gabriel McPherson is the Director of Theatrical Arts at SOTA. For the past twelve seasons, he has also served as Master Teaching Artist, Resident Director, and Resident Composer for the educational programs of Tacoma Arts Live. Gabriel and his writing partner and brother, Luke McPherson, have written four musicals for young audiences and are currently working on a musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men for the Cunningham Commission, scheduled to premiere at Chicago Playworks in 2021. Gabriel has a BFA in acting from the Theater School at DePaul University in Chicago, IL with a minor in music composition. In his prior life, Gabe toured with the first national tour and Broadway productions of Mamma Mia! for over two years. He is also a founding member of Seattle-based rock band Doxology.

Mark Thomason is Director of Technical Theatre and Design at SOTA and occasionally an adjunct professor at UP. Having worked professionally in the theatre industry for twenty years as a stagehand, lighting designer, technical director and production manager, he spends most of his time outside of teaching as a freelance lighting designer throughout the region or managing a film production studio for Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. He has produced all the SOTA theatre shows for the last several years.

Symphony Tacoma Voices Auditions Set for Sept. 16

Symphony Tacoma Voices is holding auditions for its 2019-2020 season. Auditions will be scheduled between 5 and 9 pm on September 16 at First United Methodist Church, 621 Tacoma Ave S, Tacoma, WA 98402. Come prepared a simple song to sing (an aria, a folksong, patriotic song, or hymn). You will sing your selection and then vocalize and work a little with Geoffrey Boers. ALL ARE WELCOME!

To schedule an audition, complete the Chorus Interview Form 2019 and send it to Lydia at info@symphonytacoma.org.

Learn more about Symphony Tacoma Voices >>