As the Genesee Symphony Orchestra’s 75th anniversary approaches, planning for its concert this weekend has been anything but rushed.
In fact, conductor Shade Zajac has been thinking about the event for a few years.
“I’ve been looking forward to this season for so long, not for personal reasons. I just want the orchestra to be celebrated, to let people know that this amazing thing exists, ”Zajac said in an interview with the batavian. “I’m not the same guy I was when we started… and the orchestra isn’t the same. GSO will always be a part of my history and my family.
The 75th celebratory concert titled Yesterday Today Tomorrow is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Stuart Steiner Theater at Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia.
Years of manufacturing …
Zajac, whose first season was in 2016, has been thinking about the 2021 music season “for many years now,” he said. He had discussed it with Co-Chair Roxie Choate and had several ideas amid a pandemic that had canceled many public events.
“It was touch and go whether or not we have a season,” he said.
Once the venue began to open, Zajac and the staff set out to craft a program of nostalgic and meaningful pieces. History was at the center of the orchestra’s return to the stage, exactly 75 years after the date of its debut as the Batavia Civic Orchestra.
A letter in the archives of the Richmond Memorial Library demonstrates how delicate the training of GSO was. Zajac stumbled upon it, he said, browsing the vast relics for concert ideas. It was pretty soon after the orchestra was founded in 1947, and it was a disturbing reflection on whether it was worth continuing.
“Do you want the Civic Orchestra to continue?” If so, will you work for it? The letter began. “It will be a sad loss for the community to end the orchestra. However, it seems better to end it quickly than to drag on slowly to a slow death. “
Written by then-president Virginia Trietly, the letter ended with a hopeful encouragement to “build enthusiasm – a lasting enthusiasm” that would allow the group to survive for more than 11 years. It is safe to say that community members have come together to keep going and endure the next decades.
“And here we are 75 seasons later. Yes, through this horrible pandemic where many orchestras could not do anything, and we were lucky to continue making music. It’s a really amazing thing, ”Zajac said. “And that’s a testament to the musicians, of course, to all the people who have worked on the board and also to this community that continues to support us in difficult times and in great times. Without all of these components… we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
As far as music is concerned, a concert lineup is packed with classical compositions, a guest performance and a freshly crafted piece. Mikhail Glinka’s “Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla” is not unknown to orchestras, as it has been performed “many, many times” by GSO and others, Zajac said.
“Because it’s just a spectacular fireworks show for the orchestra,” he said. “It’s a breakneck speed, then it gets even faster at the end. It is a statement to start a program with this coin.
“Prelude to Act III, Dance of the Apprentices, Final Prelude and Intermezzo”, extract from Cavalleria, was featured in the very first orchestral performance. Zajac discovered the musical score in the library archives bearing the band’s original name. Considered a “classical repertoire”, the prelude is “simply magnificent”, he said.
“I really wanted to do something different, something very early in the season… the librarian gave me the grade. And the coolest part is that the Batavia Civic Orchestra is engraved on the cover, which is of course the name from before, ”he said. “So that’s a cool find. And it’s a really good piece.
Yesterday and now …
Guest soloist Mia Fasanello will also be part of the orchestra’s history, performing a concerto 75 years after her own grandfather, Sebastian Fasanello, played one in the first concert. A regular at BSG, Fasanello won her Young Artist competition for her oboe performance and was featured soloist with the group for “Concerto for Oboe and Strings” in 2017. Currently a student at Juilliard School, Fasanello’s talent has pricked ears judges from the very first chord note.
“The oboe is a really difficult instrument to play. And for such a young person to sound so mature, it was obvious that she had to be the winner, ”said Zajac. “So it’s really great for us to bring her in and work with us in this collaboration. And that just plays into the idea that it’s a generational thing. “
From a musician’s grandfather’s past, the concert also includes the present with a “world premiere” of Nancy Pettersen Strelau’s original piece, “A Simple Beautiful Idea”.
Zajac wanted someone related to the orchestra to compose a piece for the celebration but initially didn’t know who it should be. He chose Strelau for his role as teacher, mentor and sounding board throughout his studies at Nazareth College School of Music. She even pushed him to apply for the post of conductor when it became vacant in 2015.
“I owe him so much, he’s an incredible human being; it’s always been there, he says. “It’s a very beautiful piece… the idea of going back to when they first wanted this orchestra, how intimidating that must have been. It’s a very special piece for me.
A majestic and lively “Hungarian Rhapsodies no. 2 “ends the program with a melody often heard in popular cartoons Tom and Jerry, and Rabbit with insects. Don’t be surprised if your mind conjures up a sneaky little rodent that wreaks havoc during parts of the song, Zajac said.
The program includes proclamations from State Congressman Steve Hawley and Genesee County Legislator Rochelle Stein; and an exhibit that highlights “certain aspects of our history,” said GSO librarian and second clarinet president Joanne Tumminello. A GSO calendar will be available for purchase to support the orchestra and provide a valuable collection of photos across the decades, she said.
Member since 1995, Tumminello is responsible for collecting and conserving snippets of time in the form of newspaper articles, photos, videos and other documents. This year has brought a sense of celebration to the wide range of members young and old and from all walks of life, she said.
“It’s definitely an excitement for the orchestra,” Tumminello said. “It brought us together. “
Shirts with GSO’s new logo – selected from entries from a previous logo competition – were designed for members to wear during rehearsals, she said, noting that the 75th will be removed for next season and beyond. It is a sign that “we can take it all,” she said.
“The community has a love of history and loves to support us, and that tells us to keep going,” she said.
Zajac pointed out that while he can be the “face” of the orchestra, it takes all of the musicians, the board of directors and the support of the community to make a concert and celebration happen. One musician in particular is part of the future of the 27-year-old conductor: his wife Nicole. Before they got married, she served as a sniper for a vacant French horn seat. The late Bob Knipe, very active in the GSO and the local music scene, had also “invited her to come and play” in the group. She eventually became a permanent member of GSO.
“I was in the middle of my first season with GSO and I knew I needed a replacement for Horn. And she refused me, and we kind of kept talking, ”he told Zajac. “And then, as we approached this particular concert, we needed an extra horn player at the last minute. So she stepped in, played, and then they kept inviting her again.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Tickets cost $ 15 for adults, $ 10 for seniors and are free for students with a student ID card. They can be purchased at the Holland Land Office Museum, at YNGodess or online at www.geneseesymphony.com.
Photos: archive photos of rehearsals from previous seasons. All photos are by Howard Owens. Top photo, S. Shade Zajac in 2019. Videos below from 2019.