The Upper Valley Chamber Orchestra invites you to stretch your musical ears during their concert on Saturday, July 22 at 3 p.m. at Hanover High School. The orchestra, one of several adult music programs offered by the Upper Valley Music Center (UVMC), will play a much-beloved Beethoven symphony and a less familiar piece that promises to please while expanding most people’s experience with classical music.
The entire community is welcome. The orchestra desires to expose their neighbors to classical music, and when it comes to audiences, conductor Mark Nelson says, all ages are welcome. To ensure that they feel at home, young audience members will be supplied with coloring pages and crayons.
Nelson, who recently moved from Plainfield to Enfield, began conducting the community orchestra last year. In addition to conducting, he directs several chamber groups at UVMC and teaches music theory. He is a passionate evangelist of modern American music. “If I have a chance to get this music heard, then I would like to take advantage of that opportunity,” Nelson says. “A good chunk of American music has a maverick quality to it. It does not follow European models but establishes its own language and embarks on its own path.” This music, he explains, stretches the listener’s ear by stretching their understanding and appreciation for the breadth of classical music.
Last year, the orchestra performed an all-American concert – a very unusual and exciting selection for a community orchestra. The pieces for this upcoming concert will seem more familiar. Many will recognize Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. The melodic piece paints a pleasant pastoral scene full of beauty but not without the occasional thunderstorm. The other composition, Cowell’s 1944 “Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 3,” modernizes traditional forms of music, including the four-part harmony hymn and fuguing tunes were used in the 18th century. During a fuguing tune, the orchestra will alternate between playing in harmony to one instrumental group playing a melody that is imitated by the others. The piece manages to be modern and familiar, novel and accessible.
While the Beethoven piece challenged the orchestra’s technical abilities, they have risen to the task. Nelson says, “They are extremely and exquisitely responsive to direction.” He explains that their teachability and love of music make it “a pleasure and a privilege to conduct the orchestra.”
Similarly, Erin McNeely, who plays the viola, loves interacting with the diverse group of musicians in the orchestra. “It’s a cross-section of community who comes together because we like music,” McNeely says. Several musicians are in high school or younger, while others learned their instrument late in life. McNeely remarks, “I have really enjoyed getting to know people in my community who I would not otherwise meet.”
McNeely, a resident of Lebanon, gives music a high priority in what she describes as her “constantly insane life.” A physician at Alice Peck Day Hospital, McNeely works early so she can spend her evenings with her husband and two children. Her nights are devoted to music. She practices after the children are in bed and frequently takes viola classes or participates in events at the UVMC. Her five-year-old daughter also began viola lessons at the UVMC.
“The Music Center is a special place,” she says. “Not every town our size has a building committed to making music in the community and dedicated to the community’s expression of musical language and to teaching the musical language.”