With Great Fanfare Ohio's Second Oldest Orchestra Trumpets its Longevity
The Wooster Symphony Orchestra celebrated a major milestone last week at a gala concert marking its centennial.
As a prelude, former conductors and musicians returned earlier this spring to perform and reminisce.
With “Pomp and Circumstance,” the Wooster Symphony Orchestra has officially marked its 100th birthday.
Sir Edward Elgar’s march, performed at the orchestra’s very first concert on May 8, 1916, also resounded last Friday night through McGaw Chapel on the campus of the College of Wooster, the orchestra’s host.
Bringing back the batons
But for former musicians and conductors of the century-old ensemble the most nostalgic moments came earlier.
A concert in February served as a kind of reunion. Former music directors flew in from Florida and Virginia to lead the orchestra in their favorite works, including pieces they’d conducted during their tenures.
A dozen men and women have raised batons at the podium of the Wooster Symphony over the last 100 years. Currently, it’s Jeffrey Lindberg’s job. “This is my 30th year.”
This is also Lindberg’s38th season as founder and conductor of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. He also leads the Wooster Jazz Ensemble and teaches trombone at the College of Wooster.
Founded for educational reasons
Fully seventy years before Lindberg set foot on campus Daniel Parmelee joined what was then called the Wooster Conservatory of Music.
A violinist, he’d been hired to teach string players, but determined he couldn’t do that without an orchestra.
Lindberg says it took Parmelee only two months to form one. “He recruited a few people on the faculty. I believe in the first orchestra there was just one student, and the rest were townspeople.”
There were only a dozen musicians at the very start, a small orchestra for what was then a very small town.
Small ensemble for a small town
Wooster is now a city of 26,000, but the population was about 6,000 when Daniel Parmelee began rehearsals in the former Citizens Bank Building in the downtown Public Square.
The orchestra grew to 22 members before its first concert a century ago at Wooster’s Memorial Chapel.
And the band played on through world wars and hard times. At the time of the Great Depression there were 90 members.
Today the orchestra Jeffrey Lindberg leads is smaller, only 70 players, and most are College of Wooster students and their teachers.
“We have very, very talented faculty,” Lindberg is proud to say.
Like Jack Gallagher, who served as music director in 1985 and ‘86 and fills in as conductor these days for Lindberg.
“I came to the College of Wooster to start teaching composition, music theory, as well as trumpet in 1977, so that means this is my 38th year here.”
Contemporary composer on the faculty
The music professor is also a leading contemporary composer. For February’s reunion concert Music Director Jeffrey Lindberg asked Gallagher to conduct a movement from his Second Symphony. “A work that he just composed within the past 2 or 3 years and was recorded by the London Symphony.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer called it “a work of staggering, unending brilliance.”
“And this is a very playful scherzo-like movement,” says Gallagher, “that’s simply titled ‘playful.’”
Playful, and fun to play for this long-time orchestra member. “My name is GeorgineRecchio and I play first violin in the orchestra.”
Recchio hasn’t missed a performance or rehearsal in the last 18 years, and she’s not even from Wooster. “No, I live in Canton, the Hall of Fame city, but I love coming over here because I learn so much. There’s such great repertoire here.”
Along with his 2nd Symphony scherzo, Jack Gallagher’s “Berceuse” was on February’s concert bill. “I love playing Jack’s music that he composed, too,” says Recchio.
“Georgine is too kind,” says Gallagher. “She’s been a wonderful contributor to the orchestra. We’ve been lucky to have her.”
Several professional musicians are also on the Wooster Symphony roster. Deborah Holsworth, a harpist, is in her 16th year with the community orchestra.
“It’s just a joy to be a part of an orchestra that’s a part of the community, “ says Holsworth. “The musicianship is good, and it’s enjoyable to play the literature.”
More challenging repertoire
Since Jeffrey Lindberg took the baton in 1986 the repertoire has evolved.
“I remember the first concert I conducted we did “Night on Bald Mountain,” Mussorgsky, repertoire that perhaps would have been challenging for like a high school level orchestra. But in a few years we were starting to do repertoire like Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Verdi Requiem, and Shostakovich5th, those very challenging works.”
Lindberg welcomed former music director Manuel Prestamo’s pick for the reunion concert: Gershwin’s Cuban Overture. “Revived a lot lately because of the relaxed relations with Cuba.”
For Prestamo it was a natural choice. “Well, you know,” he says, “I’m Cuban.”
Recalling the community’s embrace
Prestamo served as music director from 1975 to 1977, and is still grateful for the backing he got to do something most community orchestras wouldn’t try.
“We actually performed Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring." That work is just humongous. So we supplemented our own resources with some external players.”
Community support for arts and culture isn’t unusual in Wooster. Music Director Jeffrey Lindberg points to the Wooster Chamber Series, a regular stop for the Julliard and Emerson String Quartets for the past 30 years, and Ohio Light Opera, now in its 38th season.
“It’s actually a very vibrant community musically.” And one that especially embraces its orchestra. “Really quite remarkable. We have people that come to every concert.”
Lindberg has introduced more contemporary works in recent years and puts on a concert every year of works by living composers. “Including talented students who are enrolled in the music program here.”
Student orchestra members play on
Lindberg says some who’ve played their fellow students compositions along with Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms have gone on to careers in classical music. “Kim McCoolRiesinger, very fine flutist, principal flute in the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.”
Another Wooster Symphony alum, Eric Knorr, is also in the Springfield Symphony and is principal trumpet in the United States Air Force Band.Knorr graduated from the College of Wooster in 1989 with a Bachelor
of Music degree.
About 85 percent of current Wooster Symphony players are students. “A lot of students aren’t music majors,” says Lindberg, “but they continue to play and continue to study their instruments.”
Second violinist Tiffany Trunk isn’t majoring in music. “No, I’m not. I do take private lessons but violin is a hobby for me.”
She’s an anthropology major and political science minor who joined the orchestra 3 years ago mostly because she loves to play.
“There’s the social factor. There’s a lot of amazing people here in the orchestra, but violin primarily is a stress reliever for me. Some people meditate; some people play violin, I guess.”
World premiere in NYC
Trunk got to travel with the orchestra last month to New York City’s Symphony Space to perform the world premiere of a work by Peter Mowrie commissioned for the Wooster Symphony’s centennial celebration.
“It’s an honor to be able to be in this orchestra during such an awesome milestone. I definitely lucked out.”
Maybe Wooster lucked out, too, with an orchestra good for the long run.
In Ohio, only the Cincinnati Symphony, founded in 1895 is older. Music Director Jeffrey Lindberg marvels at his orchestra’s longevity. “Pretty remarkable in an area that’s relatively isolated from the larger metropolitan areas.”
So he chose something appropriately grand and momentous for his conducting turn at the reunion concert. “Tchaikovsky’s "Marche Slave." Kind of a rousing thing.”
Lindberg chose to conduct it with the same baton that the Wooster Symphony’s founder Daniel Parmelee fashioned from a willow branch, and used at its first concert one hundred years ago.