To the Valley and beyond: Partnership key in 2018-19 for Allentown Symphony
Allentown Symphony Orchestra is embracing “one giant leap for mankind” as it embarks on its 2018-2019 season.
The orchestra will present three programs celebrating the exploration of space and particularly the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon, including, for the first time, a lunar-themed concert performed at the State Theatre Center for the Arts, Easton.
Diane Wittry, Music Director and Conductor of the orchestra, says it is part of the orchestra’s outreach to the Lehigh Valley community and goal of working with other local arts organizations.
“Our overarching theme is partnership with the community,” Wittry says.
That theme is evident in the many groups taking part in the orchestra’s programs this season, including Muhlenberg College Chorus, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Repertory Dance Theatre and the Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley.
The ASO also is debuting a new Sunday afternoon chamber series to bring in top professional chamber musicians.
“We are trying to expand what we do in the community,” Wittry says. “It’s a really great season.”
The season kicks off with “2001: A Space Odyssey & Grieg,” Sept. 22 and 23.
Wittry says most people know Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathrusta” as the theme for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but she notes “it’s much larger than that.”
She says the tone poem based upon Friedrich Nietzsche’s novel “Thus Spoke Zarathrusta” is “very philosophical and examines the purpose of man.”
Wittry says the ASO concert will be the first time the piece will be played in its entirety in the Lehigh Valley.
The concert also will feature renowned pianist George Li, performing Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A minor.”
“Our opening soloist is fantastic,” Wittry says. “He’s young and winning competitions all over the place.”
In February, the orchestra’s family concert “To The Moon And Back!” is a “tribute to the moon” with excerpts from classical pieces about the moon, including Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and Debussy’s “Claire de Lune,” says Wittry. The orchestra also will play music from space-themed movies, including “Apollo 13,” “Star Wars” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Equity actor Kyle Brenn will narrate the story of the moon landing while dressed as an astronaut and there will be video of space provided by NASA.
“The 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing” at the State Theatre May 4 will have a similar but expanded full-length program of the space-inspired music, including Strauss’s “Music of the Spheres” and Holst’s “The Planets.”
Another anniversary the orchestra is recognizing is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day with a Veterans Tribute in November. The program is inspired by the experiences of soldiers and there will be photos and correspondence on view during the concert.
“We would really love people to send us letters and photos from any wars,” Wittry says.
Bethlehem native and actor Daniel Roebuck will read excerpts from the Gettysburg Address during the orchestra’s performance of Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” and Daniel Rodriguez, known as The Singing Policeman, will sing the National Anthem and “God Bless America.”
Other highlights are Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which was featured in the film “Saving Private Ryan,” and Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 5,” which the composer wrote during World War II.
Wittry says an all-American program is featured in “Appalachian Spring & Rhapsody in Blue” in February. A highlight is new ballet choreography by Karen Knerr for Copland’s “Appalachian Spring Suite,” which will be performed by members of the Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley.
“I’ve always wanted to do ‘Appalachian Spring’ with dancers,” Wittry says.
She says the program also will include jazz pianist Simon Mulligan performing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “I Got Rhythm” Variations.”
The orchestra’s March concert, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” features Shakespeare-inspired music by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn.
Wittry says “Dream” originally was written as “little snippets to set the stage” for the play and the concert will include performances by actors from the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and singing by Parkland High School’s Women’s Chorale.
The concert also will feature a performance of Bruch’s “Violin Concerto No. 1” by Timothy Chooi, the 2018 Schadt String Competition winner.
“Here is another young musician who is phenomenal and doing really great things,” Wittry says.
Wittry says the orchestra’s April performance of “Verdi’s Requiem,” one of the most popular choral works, will include two choirs as well as guest soloists.
The Muhlenberg College Chorus and Allentown Symphony Chorus will be joined by Toni Marie Palmertree, soprano; Patricia Risley, mezzo-soprano, and Jeremy Galyon, bass.
“The soloists all have connections to the Lehigh Valley,” Wittry says. “They trained here and went on to do amazing things.”
Wittry says the orchestra’s pop concerts, which feature Ron Demkee as conductor, also offer some great programs.
She says “The Broadway Tenors” in October features three leading men from Broadway singing songs from shows like “West Side Story” and “Les Miserables” in a multi-media show.
“A Tribute to Ella!” in January brings three women from the Broadway stage to honor the First Lady of Song. “Ella Fitzgerald just changed jazz and vocal singing,” Wittry says.
Returning in May is “Disney in Concert” featuring “all the Disney tunes you know and love” from films such as “Frozen,” “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King,” Wittry says,
She says the orchestra also plans to host a saxophone event Feb. 5 inviting area saxophone players from students to professionals to take part in a saxophone orchestra. The event would include clinics by sought-after saxophone player Paul Cohen.
She adds Miller Symphony Hall offers a lot of music in addition to the orchestra, including the “Jazz Upstairs” series and holiday concerts.
Wittry says the orchestra also is anticipating the opening of the new Lyric Room at Miller Symphony Hall, where smaller performances will be presented.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715