Article by Roberta Werdinger
Take a world-class orchestra conductor who’s entering the fourth decade of his career in a small town. Add a concertmistress who’s been playing with him from the get-go and is preparing to do her own conducting in the fall. Mix in a group of dedicated musicians, some of whom have been playing together for 20 years. Now match them up with some “big band” jazz-style instruments, and some of the best guest musicians, composers, and performers in Northern California. Fortify with the time-honored traditions of Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann and toss in some brand-new compositions. Don’t forget a healthy dose of hard work, a backbone of community support, and an ineffable quality of spirit that keeps orchestra members blowing, plucking, piping, and drumming for long hours and with few tangible rewards.
That would give you some idea of how the 2017-18 Ukiah Symphony Orchestra season is shaping up. Beginning with a jazz-oriented concert early in September and concluding with the contemplative piano music of the Romantic masters in May, the orchestra will once again guide audience members through the seasons, including a Christmas Concerto by Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli in December.
The orchestra will continue to be guided by longtime conductor Les Pfutzenreuter, rumors of whose retirement have been greatly exaggerated. While he has indeed stepped down from his teaching position in Mendocino College, a position he has held since his arrival in Ukiah from Iowa in 1985, he is still at the helm of the Ukiah Symphony and plans to be for many more years. Commenting on the eclectic nature of the 2017-18 season, he says, “I like to keep it interesting for everyone. And I like a variety of musical styles, not just classical; it’s good to venture out and do more contemporary work.”
That contemporary note will lead off the season, which begins on September 9-10 with “Paula Swings in the Big Band Era,” featuring vocalist Paula Samonte performing the music of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and more. The orchestra will emphasize the “big band” sound of the Swing Era of the 1930s and 40s with special arrangements and instruments, while Samonte, a veteran and versatile performer, will fill the hall with her warm and vibrant voice.
Concert Two on December 2-3 features Margie Salcedo Rice stepping forward from her positions as a first violinist, concertmistress, and assistant conductor to conducting the entire symphony. Salcedo Rice will conduct pianist and former Ukiah resident Elena Casanova on piano along with her own daughters–Jessica Rice Vierra, violin; Patricia Rice Agee, violin; and Elizabeth Rice Oliver, cello–playing two Beethoven favorites: Piano Concerto No. 3 and Symphony No. 5, along with Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. The fruits of Salcedo Rice’s life and career, which includes being raised in a highly musical family and introducing her own children to the violin at the age of two, will be clearly evident.
Concert Three on January 27-28 will be a bouquet of concertos from different eras, starting with an original piano concerto composed by Joseph Nemeth and featuring well-known pianist Elizabeth MacDougall; a trumpet concerto by the 20th century Armenian-Russian composer Alexander Arutunian, performed by soloist Landon Gray; and a Concerto for Two Horns by the Baroque Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, highlighting the musical mastery of Ukiah Symphony horn players John Lounsbery and Randy Masselink. Not only that, but the orchestra will play some scary symphonic music to let people know they mean business.
Concert Four–the last concert of the season–will be performed on May 19-20. Titled “Romantic Masters,” it features pianist Frank Wiens playing Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms and Symphony No. 1, “Spring” by Robert Schumann. Brahms was a student of Schumann, so Pfutzenreuter notes that the two pieces blend easily together. He also expresses enthusiasm for having Frank Wiens, who teaches in Stockton at the University of the Pacific and will be collaborating with the Ukiah Symphony again, referring to him as “an incredible musician.”
“There’s truly camaraderie and a feeling of family among the musicians” of the Ukiah Symphony, he continues. Not only is it an exceptionally good orchestra for the town of Ukiah and all of Mendocino County, but it is also “a regional orchestra–in the sense that we bring musicians from Lake County, from the coast, from Sonoma County and Marin”–as well as San Francisco, where members of the San Francisco Symphony have come to play and to teach. The Ukiah Symphony carries out its own teaching as well, recently presenting concerts to a total of 1200 K-12 students and teachers who were bused in from different parts of the county.
Salcedo Rice, who is now busy studying Beethoven’s scores and asking herself what kinds of stories he was trying to tell, also expounds on the nature of a community orchestra. “We are constantly listening to one another. It’s a very synergistic multidimensional experience. There is so much you need to be aware of. You all breathe together.” The experience, she explains, transcends the individual ego, which helps to explain how so many people could collaborate as closely as members of a modern orchestra do, where as many as 50 musicians and instruments learn to come together depending on the music’s instrumentation. That magical bond that the orchestra can create among themselves can be felt by the audience, as the gift of learning to listen to one another is extended further.
Season tickets for the 2017-18 Ukiah Symphony Season are $75 for ages 18 to 64, and $25 for a single concert; $65 for age 65 and up and $20 for a single concert; and free for ASB card holders and everyone under 18. Season tickets are available at www.ukiahsymphony.org; single tickets are sold one month prior to each concert, online and at Mendocino Book Company at 102 S. School St. in Ukiah, and Mail Center, Etc. at 207A N. Cloverdale Blvd. in Cloverdale. All concerts take place at the Mendocino College Center Theatre in Ukiah, with free parking and handicapped access. For further information please call the Ukiah Symphony hotline at 707 462-0236.
The 2017-18 Ukiah Symphony Season is sponsored by Adventist Health Ukiah Valley; Dr. Larry Falk and Dr. Margaret Arner; Robert Axt; Community First Credit Union; Dr. Andrew Corbett, D.D.S., Inc.; Conrad and Joan Cox; Rich and Jean Craig; in memory of Dr. Hugh Curtis; Guilford and Gudrun Dye; Dr. Herschel and Susan Gordon; Monte and Kay Hill; Charles and Wanda Mannon; Pacific Redwood Medical Group; Realty World/Selzer Realty; Savings Bank of Mendocino County; and Bill Taylor and Jaye Alison Moscariello.