Cellist Ifetayo Ali, junior division winner of the 2017 Sphinx Competition, will be guest soloist at the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra’s opening-night concert on September 16 at the Wilson Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ali, age 14, will perform Édouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor with the orchestra, led by conductor Steven Errante, on a program that also includes Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This week, Ali has also been in residency at area schools including Castle Hayne Elementary, St. Mary Catholic School, Williston Middle School, Murray Middle School, and Roland-Grise Middle School. She will also participate in a community performance at the Cameron Art Museum on September 13 at 4 pm. “We are honored and privileged to have Ifetayo performing in Wilmington throughout the week,” says Wilmington Symphony Executive Director Reed Wallace. “She embodies the joy and excitement of the music she performs.”
FOR THE LOVE OF LAVIN: Linda Lavin will perform with Wilmington Symphony Orchestra at Wilson Center
“There’s a big space in my heart that has Wilmington in it,” Linda Lavin says over the phone. “I had a very productive, very exciting and meaningful life in Wilmington. So I’m very excited to come back and see my old friends and do a show for them and new friends.”
PLAYING MANY ROLES: See Linda Lavin and Friends at the Cape Fear Stage on Feb. 11. Photo by Kevin Alvey.
She’ll be heading to CFCC’s Wilson Center on Saturday, Feb. 11 to perform as part of Linda Lavin and Friends with Wilmington Symphony Orchestra’s “Symphony Pops!”
Lavin lived in Wilmington for 17 years, during which she became an integral part of the theatre community. She married her husband, Steve Bakunas, at City Club of Wilmington in 2005. The couple also opened Red Barn Studio Theater about five years prior to moving from their South Front Street home in 2012. Founding their own theater, Lavin says, not only gave a sense of accomplishment within the arts community but also creatively satisfied them. They left Red Barn under Thalian Association’s umbrella, where the company has hosted several successful and initimate productions annually. However, Thalian Association’s rent-free lease is up in June, which means the Red Barn is now on the market.
“They gave us this wonderful opportunity to expand Wilmington’s theatre community,” Susan Habas, executive director of Thalain Association, says. “And we have been grateful for our four years there.”
“We know we were there at a very fertile time,” Lavin adds. “When I first came to Wilmington, there were a lot of theatre companies, and we all kind of grew up together. The Red Barn was our pride and joy because it was the kind of theatre that we wanted to do with the performers and actors we thought were the best in town, and the people we wanted and loved to work with.”
Well known for her title role in the 1970s-‘80s sitcom “Alice,” which secured her an Emmy and Golden Globe award, Lavin has been awarded the Tony and Drama Desk awards for her stage work in 1987’s “Broadway Bound.” She continues to perform today, and has a recurring role on the CBS sitcom “Mom” as Violet’s (Sadie Calvano) mother-in-law. As well she has a movie coming out in April, “How to be a Latin Lover,” starring Rob Lowe and Eugenio Derbez. She plays Lowe’s wife in the comedy.
Her voice has been hailed onstage for quite some time, as she has performed numerous cabaret and jazz shows. Today she lends it to audiobooks, including “The Boston Girl” by Anita Diamant and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memoir “My Own Words.” More so, Lavin closed her final performance as the Old Lady in “Candide” —her debut role with the New York City Opera, which opened on Jan. 6.
“It’s a wonderful role and something I’ve always wanted to do since I heard the opera when it was first done,” Lavin tells. “My mother, sister and I listened to the album years and years and years ago. . . . All of the sudden it was done. Just like community theater, you rehearse and rehearse, and it’s over in two weekends—which we know a lot about having lived in Wilmington.”
Lavin is excited to perform at one of Wilmington’s newest stages in downtown: CFCC’s Wilson Center. Penned as an evening of American jazz and cabaret, Lavin will perform with pianist Billy Stritch, jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein and her husband Steve Bakunas on drums. Stritch has been Lavin’s musical director for a dozen years or so, and is well-known for his work with many performers, from Tony Bennett to Liza Minnelli (Stritch even christened the Cape Fear Stage when he performed with Minnelli at its grand opening in the fall of 2015). While Bakunas is featured on drums, he’ll also have vocals in the show.
Wilmingtonians may remember Weinstein from Lavin’s last performance with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra. “He’s a young, extraordinary musician and I won’t work without him,” Lavin asserts. “People just go crazy when he plays and he’s fantastic.”
Bassist Tom Hubbard and guitarist Ron Affif round out her five-piece band. Their combined efforts and connection have bound them as family. “We are a troupe,” she describes. “We are a unit and I treasure our relationship . . . . And this time we’ll have a 50-piece orchestra, so it will be enriched by that fabulous sound, those strings and horns.”
According to Lavin, this upcoming performance is a very different show than what she started off with more than a dozen years ago. As she expands her catalog, and learns and grows with it, Lavin has accepted herself as a different person and artist. She wants this expressed in her music. Her performance will include songs from 2011’s “Possibilities” album, “The Great American Songbook,” as well as classic Broadway standards. From ballads to even some Brazilian tunes, Lavin’s song showcase will also help unfold a story to her audience.
“I’ll be doing ‘You’ve Got Possibilities’ from ‘It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman,’” she divulges. “‘There’s a Small Hotel,’ which is a wonderful song and very well known. I’ll be doing jazz and popular tunes people will recognize—and I’ll be telling my stories along with these songs—the story of my life, the story of my career, my past, my experiences, and my dreams.”
Wilmington Symphony Orchestra conductor Steve Errante has been working on adjustments to some of the arrangements. He has expanded the musicality from what is normally performed with a small band.
“I’ve created orchestral backups that will enrich the sound and take full advantage of the many instrumental colors available in a symphony orchestra,” he details. “The aim is to enhance the emotions and drama that Linda and her group already put into the music.”
It will be a Valentine’s show, as well as mark Lavin and Bakunas’ 11th wedding anniversary. While she says she’ll be making time to celebrate and see friends, they’ll be fully focused and rehearsing right up until the curtain rises on Feb. 11. Special cabaret seating is available for the show, with bistro tables for two, and wine, beer and dessert served at intermission. Call 910-362-7999 to purchase seats or visit www.cfcc.edu/capefearstage for more information.
Wilmington Symphony Orchestra presents Symphony Pops! with Linda Lavin and Friends
Saturday, Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Wilson Center • 703 N 3rd St.
Broadway actress and former Wilmingtonian Linda Lavin performs with the WSO
by Teresa McLamb, LOL contributor | Rene' Leister / Featured Article / 0 Comment
Tony and Golden Globe award-winning performer Linda Lavin returns to Wilmington in February to join forces with Wilmington Symphony Orchestra at the Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Center as part of Symphony Pops! It will be her third appearance with the orchestra, an event she is very much anticipating, with conductor Steven Errante leading the helm.
“Steven’s orchestrations are exciting and highly energized,” Lavin told LOL in an interview in mid January. “I’m very excited. I will be singing songs I grew up with, songs I’ve sung and songs I wish I had sung. I’m telling the story of my life.”
Lavin will take on tunes from The Great American Songbook, plus global sounds, which will feature a few Brazilian tunes. Lavin’s set will include tunes from her latest CD, “Possibilities.” Released on Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight Records, the record highlights tracks Lavin sang in her nightclub act over the years, including “Deed I Do,” “Two for the Road” and “The Song Remembers When.”
Best known for her work on the ’70s sitcom, “Alice,” Lavin’s career soared once she began acting on Broadway. Her performances onstage have led to critical acclaim, including a Tony for her performance in Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound.”
After landing a role alongside Mary Tyler Moore in ” Stolen Memories: Secrets from the Rose Garden,” a TV movie that filmed in Wilmington, Lavin called Port City home for 17 years. She injected a multitude of talent into our arts scene after opening the Red Barn Studio Theatre on Third Street in 2007. She and her husband Steve Bakunas curated thought-provoking and groundbreaking productions, from classics like Charles Busch’s “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” to original works, like local Owen Dunn’s “Positions.”
“I made a beautiful life in Wilmington,” Lavin said. She and Bakunas bought several houses around the theatre in an effort to spruce up the neighborhood. Today it continues to boom, from the construction of South Front Apartments to the opening of surrounding restaurants and bars. Lavin and Bakunas also donated land they owned nearby to the city.
“We were grateful to give service and participate in the growth of the community, which gave us so much opportunity to create and develop and have a wonderful life,” Lavin noted. “For that I am always and eternally grateful.”
Lavin’s jazz band will accompany her symphony performance, including bassist Tom Hubbard, jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein and her husband, who also is the drummer. Weinstein and Bakunas will perform a Cole Porter–inspired duet. “He performs with me everywhere I go,” she praised of Weinstein. “He’s just mind blowingly exciting to listen to and watch.”
The band will be led by pianist and music director Billy Stritch—who last played the Wilson Center with Liza Minnelli when it officially opened to the community in 2015. “Wilmington knows Billy very well,” Lavin said. Yet, this will be Lavin’s first time at the performing arts center. “I hear great things about the acoustics, and the hall is very successful in its appreciation of the performing arts.”
As part of the production, conductor Steven Errante will debut new arrangements. “[He’s] an extraordinarily gifted and generous musician.” Lavin said. “We want the show to feel like a party.”
Also performing will be the winners of WSO’s 40th annual Richard R. Deas Student Concerto Competition: Quentin Lovett (UNCW division winner) and David Cheng (voice and high school division winner). Lovette is a senior at UNCW pursuing a B.M. in music education. Cheng is a freshman attending Hoggard High school and has played piano for 10 years.
While her life has been rife with opportunity and creative output—and very much still is—Lavin doesn’t look to a slate of projects to check off someday. She stays focused on the here and now.
“I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing,” she divulged. “I just closed an extraordinary experience with the New York City Opera, in which I appeared in a very famous role in a very famous opera directed by the very famous Hal Prince. I never thought I would be singing opera in an opera company. I don’t have a bucket list; I create a list by showing up for things I’m invited to do.”
Symphony Pops with Linda Lavin and the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra
Sat., Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m.
CFCC Wilson Center • 703 N 3rd St.
The WSO will play a concert billed "Four Centuries of Orchestra Music" at CFCC's Wilson Center Sept. 17.
By Bob Workmon, StarNews correspondent
September 13, 2016
Sometimes a change of venue is just what you need to grow up. And the opening of Cape Fear Community College's Wilson Center has provided the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra an irresistible opportunity to do just that, starting Saturday night.
“The move was an evolution for us,” said the symphony's music director, Steven Errante. “The hall was opening last year. We had already planned our season at Kenan Auditorium, which has been our home for more than 40 years. We’re a little like a battleship in that you can’t just suddenly make a U-turn.”
So, the orchestra performed its season last year at Kenan, on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, except for the “Magical Mystery Tour” pops concert. According to WSO executive director Reed Wallace, that concert, given in the Wilson Center, erased any doubt about the benefits of moving downtown.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Wallace said. “We have a great partnership with the university, and that will continue. We will continue to present our youth concerts at Kenan and play our 50th anniversary concert there.”
But Wallace and the orchestra’s board couldn’t ignore the success of its first Wilson Center concert, one which saw a dramatic increase in the number of Brunswick County audience members. In fact, Wallace said, 35 percent of the audience at the pops concert crossed the river, helping pack the hall.
“There is a whole list of things that make the Wilson Center more suited to the needs a symphony orchestra in terms of space and acoustics,” Errante said.
The backstage accommodations for the musicians, as well as the size of the stage, seem luxurious compared to the WSO’s old digs.
Wallace and Errante each spoke of the remarkable acoustical engineering that projects sound from the stage into the hall, and allows the musicians to hear one another on stage. Indeed, Saturday's concert, billed as "Four Centuries of Orchestra Music," is meant to make the most of these improvements with music by Giovanni Gabrieli, Joseph Haydn, Richard Wagner, Benjamin Britten and Arturo Marquez.
“So, the Gabrieli is for three brass choirs,” Errante said. “We’re going to place two of them up in the side balconies, and the third across the audience, so we’ll get that 'Saint Mark’s effect,'” referring to the way musicians were placed around the reverberating space of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the space for which the "Canzon Noni in 12 Voices" was written.
The orchestra will try out its crisp Classical articulation with Haydn’s "Symphony No. 96," then explore the Wilson Center space with the opulence of “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Wagner’s massive operatic tetralogy “The Ring of the Nibelungs.”
The concert’s second half opens with Britten’s “Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Purcell,” better known as “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” which, as the name implies, gives each section of the orchestra a chance to shine.
Errante described Marquez’s "Danzon No. 2" as “a built in encore,” filled as it is with an irresistible rhythmic pulse and rich tonal palette based on the Mexican dances that inspired it.
“I really wanted to test drive this place,” Errante said of the Wilson Center.
Steven Errante takes the baton for his third decade leading the Wilmington Symphony
When the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra takes the stage in a new venue this September, 30 years of leadership and love will be at the helm. Conductor Steven Errante has been leading the orchestra since 1986, and doesn't plan to stop until his "arms fall off."
"I'm still learning," Errante says. "I love the music, and it's such a thrill trying to get 60 individual talents focused."
Concertmaster and first violinist Beverly Andrews likens Errante to the captain of a ship, whose instrument of command is the baton he uses to bring the musicians together to follow his interpretation of the music and create a wonderfully choreographed show.
"Steven can conduct us through wild tempests of music and through calm waters," she says. "We watch him for tempo, dynamics, phrasing, expression. His whole body speaks to us. My favorite is when he flicks his elbow at the violin section to indicate for us to start some crazy rapid syncopation. Even when he bends his knees or tips his chin, we get whatever message he is communicating to us."
Andrews auditioned for the symphony immediately after moving to Wilmington 25 years ago. She said the symphony -- which at that time had been under Errante's direction for five years -- was already good, and they have been adding variety and excellence every year.
The present-day Wilmington Symphony was formed in 1971 as the University of North Carolina Wilmington Community Orchestra. Co-founders Gaile Zack and Virginia Henderson envisioned it as an outlet for volunteer musicians who just liked to play.
"We literally started with musicians who only had to own an instrument and warm a chair," Zack says.
Now the orchestra holds auditions twice a year, with musicians coming from surrounding towns and cities like Jacksonville and Sneads Ferry. The players aren't paid, but the standards are high.
Zack credits Errante for much of the growth of the ensemble that has evolved into a vital part of the city's culture.
"His tenure is solely responsible for the quality of the orchestra today," Zack says. "We didn't think far enough down the road to envision such a skilled, popular organization that would add so much to the Wilmington area."
Not that the players don't still enjoy playing -- they thrive on it -- but the performances are now focused on offering an enjoyable experience to the growing audiences.
"We reached a turning point sometime in the 1990s, when the orchestra evolved from being for the enjoyment of the players to the enjoyment of the audience," Errante says. "Performing with the Wilmington Symphony is always exciting because we have a mixture of players. Some are teachers, some are students, and many pursue music as an avocation, but all of them are committed to putting their utmost into each performance."
No one would question that Errante is a professional. He composes, conducts, and teaches. But he pursues music as an avocation as well.
He came to it naturally. His father was a musician who filled their Michigan home with classical music. The genre took permanent root in Errante's heart and soul when his dad took him to New York to see the Metropolitan Opera. The production featured stars like Leontyne Price. Although Errante was just in third grade, the music hooked him.
Errante started composing while still in high school. He garnered great support and encouragement from music teachers who recognized his gift and used his compositions and arrangements for their orchestras and choruses. By the time he graduated from high school, his music was being performed by professionals.
At the University of Michigan, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees, Errante majored in composition and orchestral conducting.
"The only way to express my love of symphonic music and opera was on the podium," Errante says. He completed his doctorate at the Juilliard School in New York City and has been teaching and conducting ever since. Errante didn't necessarily plan to stick around for the next 30 years when he and his wife, Sandy, arrived in town in 1986. He could have used the position to gain experience, establish a reputation, and then move on to a bigger orchestra in a larger town. Instead, the Errantes put down deep roots. Their two daughters, Emmy and Casey, were born and raised here. Wilmington is home.
"Wilmington has always been ideal for me and my family," Errante says. "It's a small town with big-town cultural offerings. We also enjoy the natural setting where we can take walks at Carolina Beach State Park or paddle our kayaks on the Black River or to Masonboro Island." His wife and daughters are avid surfers, but Errante says he is "more of an occasional surfer and the perpetual beginner in the family."
The Errantes have given much of themselves to the artistic culture of the city. Steven is a professor of music at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. In addition to conducting the WSO, he founded and conducts the Wilmington Symphony Youth Orchestra. Sandy founded the Girls' Choir of Wilmington and has directed it for 20 years. Steven is the accompanist for the choir. The Wilmington Symphony Junior Strings is a more recent addition and is conducted by Jane Tierney.
"We now have people covered from sixth grade into their 70s," Errante says.
As he approaches his 30th season on the conductor's podium, Errante is looking forward rather than backward.
"My greatest hope is to find ways to bring new and more varied audiences into the Wilmington Symphony and Wilmington Symphony Youth Orchestra events," Errante says. "We're trying to think creatively about how to create more encounters between the musicians and the public."
The Wilmington Symphony is not a professional orchestra that performs the same program through a series of concerts, so each performance is unique.
"The Wilmington Symphony has just one chance to get it right," Errante says. "I nearly always choose works that I haven't conducted before, so it truly feels like the once-in-a-lifetime experience that it is."
Andrews concurs. She says that Errante is a master programmer, choosing pieces that will touch the audience in many different ways.
"Anyone who loves a lot of big, beautiful sounds will hear something that will touch their soul at each concert," Andrews says.
The concerts on the 2016-17 calendar will be performed at a new venue. After playing on the UNCW campus since its founding, the orchestra is moving to the Wilson Humanities and Fine Arts Center at Cape Fear Community College.
"We are looking forward to 'taking it downtown' this fall," Errante says. "It has an orchestra shell specifically designed to bring out the best sound for groups like ours and the amenities for both audience and players are wonderful."
WSO executive director Reed Wallace is excited about the future of the orchestra and its move to a new larger location downtown, which he says is quickly becoming the center of performing arts with audiences coming from Brunswick County and surrounding areas.
"The strength of the organization is continuous improvement and continuity of musicians," Reed says. "Steve's leadership keeps people coming back."
After 45 years with the orchestra she helped found, Zack recently retired from playing, knowing it is in good hands.
"WSO has far surpassed any dreams I had 45 years ago." Zack says. "I can remember a revelation I had some years ago, feeling extraordinarily happy at realizing that if I dropped dead right then, the orchestra would successfully continue right on without me, without missing a beat."
And that is Errante's goal -- to lead the orchestra, focusing and unifying the extraordinary talent of 60 musicians, as long as he has arms.
The 2016-17 season begins September 17 with a program called Four Centuries of Orchestra Music.
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Wilmington Symphony board president Karen Smith and longtime conductor Steven Errante celebrate a recent legacy gift and move to a downtown venue during the group’s Kentucky Derby fundraiser last week. Courtesy photo.
A longstanding local musical group has received a legacy gift from one of its most loyal supporters.
The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra’s endowment fund was given a $90,000 donation during the non-profit’s Kentucky Derby Day fundraiser on May 7. The hefty contribution came from the estate of Frank and Ruth Funk, longtime Wilmington residents and arts advocates.
“Ruth served on our orchestra’s board of directors for many years, and now the Funks’ generosity is extending even beyond their lifetimes,” said symphony board president Karen Smith. “Their gift is further tangible evidence that the Wilmington Symphony is appreciated as a valued asset to the region and that there is belief in our local orchestra’s importance and permanence.”
Smith’s assertion may come from the organization’s nearly 50-year tradition of showcasing regional talent of all ages and offering a variety of educational programs.
The Funks’ gift was one of several major announcements made at last week’s derby party. While noting the orchestra’s roots in the community, Smith looked ahead, confirming upcoming plans to create a downtown presence in its 46th season.
For the first time, Wilmington Symphony Orchestra will perform at Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Humanities and Fine Arts Center.
“The availability of a new performance venue located in what has now become the center of our region’s growing population base coincides with our board’s plans to increase the orchestra’s accessibility,” Smith said.
Symphony conductor Steven Errante was on hand to dedicate the 2016-17 concert season in honor of Gaile Zack, a founder of the group who recently retired after 45 years.
“Soon after her arrival to Wilmington in 1971, Gaile worked tenaciously and tirelessly to organize a local orchestra…The lives of so many citizens across southeastern North Carolina are so much richer because of her work,” Errante said.
Errante is no newcomer, either. This season will mark his 30th as conductor of the group.
More information about 2016-17 performances and youth programs, visit Wilmington Symphony’s website.
By Port City Daily
By Ben Steelman, StarNews Staff
Published: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 3:36 p.m.
The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra has received a $90,000 gift from the estate of Frank and Ruth Funk. The Funks, longtime faculty members and administrators at Syracuse University, were active for years in the Wilmington cultural community.
Ruth Funk, who died in 2013, served on the orchestra's board of directors for many years and, with her husband, was among the organizers of the Alliance for a Regional Concert Hall (ARCH). Frank Funk died Aug. 21.
The Funks' donation is one of a number recent legacy gifts to the orchestra, according to Karen Smith, president of the Wilmington Symphony's board.
The gift was announced during the orchestra's Derby Day fundraiser. At the same event, Smith announced that the Wilmington Symphony will present its 2016-17 season downtown at Cape Fear Community College's Wilson Center.
For more information about the orchestra's season, visit www.wilmingtonsymphony.org.
By Bob Workmon, StarNews correspondent
Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
The Beatles tribute band Classical Mystery Tour performs with the Wilmington Symphony March 19 at CFCC.
Two very different symphony concerts will be played at CFCC's Humanities & Fine Arts Center this week, a kind of embarrassment of riches, musically speaking.
The North Carolina Symphony comes to town on St. Patrick's Day with evocations of earth and sky via the imaginations of Antonio Vivaldi, Aaron Jay Kernis and Nico Muhly. Then, our very own Wilmington Symphony Orchestra joins the Classical Mystery Tour on Saturday for the music of -- you guessed it -- The Beatles!
'Seasons' of the N.C. Symphony
Thursday's N.C. Symphony concert, conducted by music director Grant Llewellyn, showcases five of the orchestra's violinists. Elizabeth Phelps, Jacqueline Saed Wolborsky, Dovid Friedlander and Rebekah Binford will each solo in one of the Vivaldi concertos known as “The Four Seasons” -- four of the most famous works of the Baroque period, dating from about 1725. Vivaldi captures in each concerto something of the mood and sound of each season, from spring's fresh greenery to the bite of a winter wind.
Composer Nico Muhly's 2011 composition “Seeing is Believing” provides employment for the fifth soloist, Karen Strittmatter Galvin and a six-string electric violin made especially for this performance by California-based instrument maker John Jordan.
Galvin, herself an assistant concert master with the orchestra and an active proponent of new music, said the biggest challenge in preparing “Seeing is Believing” was mastering an instrument with more than an octave added to the lowest notes playable, requiring reading bass and treble clef, something violinists normally never have to worry about.
“It's a different instrument,” Galvin said. “Playing on six strings is very different than playing on four, never mind playing on an amplified electric instrument and making a beautiful sound.”
From a generation before Muhly comes Kernis' “Musica celestis,” which takes its name from the writings of sixth-century Roman philosopher, scholar, statesman and theologian Boethius, for whom “musica celestis” was the indescribable music played by the gods. Kernis, 56, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer now teaching at Yale University.
“I think it was a brilliant move to play 'The Four Seasons' next to music by (Muhly) and Aaron Jay Kernis,” Galvin said. “They are the new and incredible voices of new music. At one point Vivaldi was new music, and it took some brave souls to play it. And that's what the North Carolina Symphony is doing.”
WSO meets the Beatles
The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra's big pops concert Saturday is an all-ages celebration of music standing the test of time far beyond the brief career of the quartet that produced it. Jim Owen is the founding member of Classical Mystery Tour, a group traveling the country for nearly 20 years bringing the look and the sound of The Beatles to classical music audiences through collaborative concerts with orchestras.
The sound, Owen said, really comes down to the brilliance of the recently deceased Sir George Martin, the producer who helped the Fab Four find their voices as performers and songwriters.
“Martin's classical training came to the fore in the studio,” Owen said. “My goal when we started in 1996 was not to rearrange something you can't top, but to reconstruct it. In order to create this show, our arranger Herman Martin had to transcribe note for note each song from listening to the original recordings.”
The musicians of Classical Mystery Tour also endeavor to inhabit the personas of the Beatles they play. Owen is “John Lennon,” with Tony Kishman as Paul McCartney, David John as George Harrison and Chris Camilleri as Ringo Starr.
“We go through, in costume and in chronological order, the history of The Beatles,” Owen said.
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Mar 15, 2016
ARTSY SMARTSY, FEATURE SIDEBAR, Features, Interviews and Such, Music
Wilmington Symphony Orchestra performs with Classical Mystery Tour
Inexplicably, they’ve been hailed the greatest band in music history—and rightfully so. The Beatles began their career with an electrifying presence (and quite hip hairdos) that had fanatics bebopping and squealing each time the Fab Four took over the stage to play their 1962 hit “Love Me Do.” John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr played resounding rhythms that would evolve across multiple genres, from pop to psychedelia, Indian music to hard rock. And, yes, they even incorporated classical elements into their innovative sounds. Though the band disbanded in 1970, they left an indelible imprint on music.
WAITING TO TAKE YOU AWAY: A tribute to the Fab Four comes to Cape Fear Stage, backed by the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, with the Classical Mystery Tour. Courtesy photo
In 1996, Jim Owen devised a tribute band that highlighted the orchestral elements naturally represented in Beatles music. His idea was to find four musicians to impersonate The Beatles, yet tour cities with symphony orchestras who would back up the core group in playing over 30 hits. With Owen as John Lennon on rhythm guitar, piano, and vocals, Tony Kishman as Paul McCartney on bass guitar, piano, and vocals, David John as George Harrison on lead guitar and vocals, and Chris Camilleri as Ringo Starr on drums and vocals, they’ve played with over 100 orchestras— from the Sydney Opera House in Australia to Philadelphia, L.A., Cleveland, and beyond. This weekend, Saturday, March 19, they will play with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra at CFCC’s Cape Fear Stage. We interviewed Owen about Beatlemania 2.0 and what we can expect.
encore (e): So, I am writing this upon hearing news of producer George Martin’s passing. Often known as “the 5th Beatle,” what has his imprint on this music meant to rock history in your opinion?
Jim Owen (JO): Sir George Martin’s classical music training blended perfectly with the ideas presented by The Beatles as they brought new songs to be recorded in the studio. Starting with “Yesterday’s” string quartet, followed by the double quartet on “Eleanor Rigby” and on from there. When John Lennon played for George Martin his initial version of “I Am the Walrus,” George asked, “What am I supposed to do with that [monotonous melody]?” The result is a true testament to Martin’s ability.
e: When did your love for them begin?
JO: I heard “Meet The Beatles” album in 1973 or so and asked my aunt, who played it for me, “Who are those guys?!” I was about 7 years old, and decided at that moment I wanted to learn guitar and play their music exactly as they did.
e: What was the first Beatles song you heard and how did it impact you? Do you play the song in the show?
JO: We do play “I Saw Her Standing There” from “Meet The Beatles.” It’s just a fun nod to the early years since there is no orchestra.
e: How did you fellas begin your journey into this tribute concert with orchestras? Where did it all start?
JO: It started as being Beatles fans as kids in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We all—along with thousands of others—wanted to learn their music, and the way to do it was by listening to their records over and over and picking out the parts by ear.
The Broadway show, “Beatlemania,” debuted in the late ‘70s and gave professioanlism to The Beatles tribute or simulation concept. In the 1990s I wanted to bring it together with an orchestra so we could play live as closely to what we know from their original recordings as possible.
e: How did you decide who was gonna “play” which Beatle? Was thumb-wrestling involved?
JO: Interestingly, we all resemble our particular characters seemingly by chance. It appears like it was meant to be somehow. There were probably subtle encouragements along the way by people noticing resemblances.
e: The songs have been transformed to include orchestral elements—like “Penny Lane” includes a trumpet section in your show. Did you restructure or elevate the music?
JO: There is no rearranging of the original versions of the songs. We have recreated all vocals, including the harmonies, band parts—drums, bass, guitars, keys—along with exact transcriptions of the orchestral parts from the original recordings. That work was done by [our conductor,] who painstakingly did it over a period of months. Imagine him listening to these recordings time and again to write out each part for each instrument in the orchestra.
e: Have Ringo or Paul heard of you/seen you? Any feedback from their camp?
JO: No idea if Ringo or Paul are aware of us. Although, with the Internet I’m sure somebody must have shown them a clip or something and said, “Hey, you’ll get a kick out of this!”
Classical Mystery Tour with Wilmington Symphony Orchestra
Saturday, March 19, 7:30 p.m.
Cape Fear Community College
Humanities and Fine Arts Center
701 N 3 St. • www.capefearstage.com
by Rene Leister
We caught up with Dr. Steven Errante, conductor of the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra. What we already know: He lives in Wilmington with his wife Sandy, who is the founder and director of the Girls’ Choir of Wilmington and owner of Kindermusik with Sandy Errante. Their two daughters are in college. Let’s get to know him a little better…
Livin Out Loud (LOL): Tell us about your early life: where were you born; what was the first musical instrument you ever played; what are some of your favorite childhood memories?
Steven Errante (SE): I grew up in the Detroit area with two younger sisters. My mother’s formative years were during the big band era and she was able to play the piano by ear, leading me as a very young kid to assume that’s what you do, and why not? So I imitated her by also playing by ear, as well as learning to read music in my brief stint as a piano student. My dad had discovered classical music in college because of an inspiring music appreciation teacher, and so there was a lot of Brahms and Mozart being played on the single-speaker phonograph when I was young. I remember how many 78-rpm disks it took to listen to just one Brahms symphony movement.
LOL: Are you a fan of The Beatles?
SE: I remember my younger sisters becoming fans when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, but as a Beethoven lover, I would have none of it. That is until my 12-year-old self discovered if I played a Beatles song on the piano at school, 12-year-old girls would gather around.
Like every other kid growing up in the ’60s, I also played guitar and, with my musical friends, performed songs by groups like Peter, Paul and Mary. So it was a definite thrill a couple of years ago when Paul (Noel Paul Stookey) appeared as a guest with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra.
Another connection with my youth will be made March 19 when the Wilmington Symphony presents Symphony Pops! and performs “Classical Mystery Tour” with a quartet inspired by the Beatles.
LOL: Tell us how you discovered a passion for music.
SE: My lifelong connection to music was encouraged by music teachers in the public system who challenged me to create arrangements and compositions for various school choirs and orchestras – I have no idea how they were able to determine that I was capable of doing such things. Before my senior year in high school, I spent eight weeks at Interlochen’s National Music Camp and watched Aaron Copland for an entire week rehearsing a concert of his own music, and that’s when I became sure I wanted to be a conductor and composer.
LOL: What’s the worst and best advice you ever got?
SE: When my wife Sandy and I moved to Wilmington in 1986, I was advised that the career path for a conductor was to keep moving every four years or so to a bigger, higher-budget orchestra. Not only was I not cut out for the kind of full-time self-promotion required for that kind of advancement, but we had two daughters and soon decided we loved Wilmington too much to want to move.
LOL: What are some activities you and your family do together?
SE: My wife and daughters are avid surfers and we also like mountain hiking, so our many family vacations have been spent in surfing locations, like Costa Rica and Southern California, as well as in the Appalachians, the Adirondacks and the Colorado Rockies.
LOL: What are some of the items you have left to accomplish on your bucket list?
SE: In my professional life as a symphony conductor, I’ve maintained a bucket list of the great works for orchestra. I still have quite a few of those left to perform, even after almost 40 years at this. But, lately, I’ve been thinking more in terms of what professional legacy I’d like to leave, and that is to make sure Wilmington has a healthy, well-supported symphony orchestra and especially younger generations of performers and audience members are cultivated and ready to be involved.
Dr. Steven Errante’s Principal Compositions
2007: Music for “Made of Salt and Water” (documentary film by Terry Linehan)
2003: Sing to the Lord a New Song (commissioned by the Vanguard Voices)
2001: Festival Dances (commissioned by the Dearborn Symphony Orchestra)
2000: Music for “Where Is Death?” (short film by Buckley Hubbard)
1998: Music for “The Anniversary Waltz” (short film by Terry Linehan)
1995: March, recorded by the North Carolina Symphony
1990: Symphony No. 2 (commissioned by the WIlmington Symphony Orchestra)
1986: A Celebration Symphony (commissioned by the Dearborn Symphony Orchestra)