Bridging the Gap: New season with new music director at Ukiah Symphony. Excellence remains same.
Article by Roberta Werdinger
While the 40th anniversary of the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra will usher in a new music director, new board members, and compositions from newer composers woven in with established classics, its high level of musical achievement and cultural relevance will remain the same.
That is the firm conviction of Phillip Lenberg, now presiding over the Symphony’s 2019-2020 season. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Russian immigrant parents, Lenberg was instilled from an early age with a deep appreciation for the arts. After two years at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto he received an undergraduate degree from Stony Brook University in New York, followed by a Master’s Degree and DMA (Doctor in Musical Arts) from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where he focused on performance. In between guest conducting gigs in San Francisco, where he moved upon graduating, Lenberg taught at the French-American International school and at San Francisco State University, paving the way for his leadership in Mendocino College’s Symphonic Band.
Lenberg’s emphasis on education remains firm; he wants the orchestra to serve as “the role model” for all those in the community who wish to develop and express their musical interests. For this reason he is presenting a 30-minute talk before each concert, instilling listeners with the stories and personalities behind the music. He is also maintaining a presence, with Symphony board members and musicians, at the Ukiah Farmer’s Market on summer Saturdays, providing live music and information on everything from membership to tidbits on the musical history he so knows and loves.
Because some 20th century music can be relatively inaccessible–something Lenberg readily admits–education is even more important, as audiences can be introduced to new composers, who often operate under new paradigms. Each of the four concerts Lenberg has programmed for this season include at least one 20th century composer, all of whom he describes as “very accessible.” Lenberg is also committed to programming with cultural, racial, and gender diversity in mind; he glows with enthusiasm when he describes the four female musicians featured in this season’s concerts.
Lenberg will continue the Symphony’s custom of opening the season with a jazz concert on September 14-15, with “Black, Brown, and Beige.” “The concert is focused on the classical side of Duke Ellington,” Lenberg explains, pointing out that Ellington was studying piano within ten years of Brahms’s death. The concert will also feature compositions by Ellington’s long-time arranger, Billy Strayhorn, including “Rhapsody in Blue.” Bay Area gospel vocalist Shelene Huey Booker will provide vocals.
“Finnish and Unfinished,” on December 7-8, 2019, matches the music of two composers who were both on what Lenberg calls “two very personal journeys”: Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, widely described as “unfinished,” and Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor–the only concerto he ever wrote–along with other music by the Finnish composer. The concert features Russian-American musician Polina Sedukh, whom Lenberg describes as “an incredible violinist” with “an intensity, sensitivity, and stylistic understanding that matches this concerto perfectly.”
In “Baroque Revisited,” on February 8-9, 2020, Lenberg incorporates four composers, three of them rooted in the 20th century, who wrote and performed in the Baroque style of 1600 to 1750. With the dates of their compositions ranging from 1877 (for Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme) to 1972 (for Alfred Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style), this concert reveals Lenberg’s dedication to “holding up the canon” while also “bringing in composers that are not regularly performed.” Cellist Natalie Raney, based in San Francisco, will perform with the orchestra.
“Bohemian Borders” concludes the season on May 16-17 of 2020. It features four major composers–Mahler, Chopin, Beethoven, and Dvorak–who lived in or around the province of Bohemia, a Central European stronghold of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The music reflected a style both romantic and introspective, with a blending of high art and folk roots. Mezzo-soprano Melinda Martinez Becker will provide vocals for Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer.”
“There’s a kind of magic when you hear live music,” Lenberg concludes, reflecting on the orchestra’s overall role in the community. “When you go to a concert with 50 people playing different instruments, making this massive sound, it is impressive whatever your tastes are.” The evolution of this season and of this important local institution in the years ahead is sure to be impressive as well.
Season tickets for the 2019-20 Ukiah Symphony Season are $90 for ages 18 to 64, and $75 for age 65 and up. Tickets for a single concert are $30 general; $25 for age 65 and up; and free for students and others under 18. (Buying a season ticket is like hearing four concerts for the cost of three.) Season and single tickets are available at www.ukiahsymphony.org; single tickets are sold one month prior to each concert at the Mendocino Book Company. Tickets are also available at the door, with cash, check, or credit cards all accepted. All concerts take place at the Mendocino College Center Theatre in Ukiah, with free parking and wheelchair access. For further information please call the Ukiah Symphony hotline at 707 462-0236.
The Ukiah Symphony’s sponsors, program advertisers, and donors make it possible to bridge the gap between ticket sales and concert expenses, which average $15,000-18,000 per concert. Those interested in helping to support the Symphony may now make a donation online at www.ukiahsymphony.org