There is a future for the Newton-based New Philharmonia Orchestra after the loss of its beloved long-time conductor Ron Knudsen last March. Founded in 1995 by a group of nonprofessional musicians seeking to achieve a high level of performance not available with other ensembles, the New Phil was led in its early days by the Knudsen, a member of the BSO violin section for 48 years and conductor throughout New England, including the Pops. Knudsen’s death was a blow to an orchestra that thrived and grew under his leadership. “It was Ron’s goal to establish an orchestra that would perform with high standards, both musically and technically,” says New Phil Executive Director Adrienne Hartzell. “He also was passionate about sharing our music with the entire community, from music lovers and families to seniors and youth. It’s gratifying that the programs he and the Orchestra established will continue this season.” The New Phil launches its 21st season November 7th and 8th, under the baton of Venezuelan conductor Francisco Noya.
Shortly before his death, Knudsen encouraged the orchestra to plan for the future, and invited Noya to lead the final program of last season, leading to the invitation to serve as conductor and artistic adviser for this one. Currently also resident conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, he is a member of the conducting faculty at Berklee, where he leads the symphony orchestra and Contemporary Music Ensemble. He also has led the Longwood Symphony Orchestra and Symphony by the Sea in Manchester. “I love working with volunteer musicians. They overcome obstacles with perseverance, education, and most importantly the love of music,” he says, and about New Phil, “I’m enjoying every second. Ron was a great orchestra builder, and you hear that in this orchestra. The musicians are very well-trained with musical standards associated with many professional groups. They know their way around the orchestral repertoire and they know how to play in an ensemble. A number of New Phil musicians could have had successful careers in music, but chose other fields, such as medicine, finance, or law. It’s a joy to conduct them. “
Each year, the New Phil performs approximately a dozen concerts, including three pairs of “Classics” concerts, Pops programs, and Family Discovery Concerts that feature collaborations with arts organizations in and around the Newton area. With a mission of Music for All, free performances are presented throughout Newton, including such locations as the Street in Chestnut Hill, where Orchestra members recently offered a concert and an instrumental petting zoo.
The upcoming Classical series offers three programs featuring major orchestral works and guest artists as well, and celebrates Knudsen’s life and legacy. The opening concerts, November 7th and 8th at First Baptist Church in Newton Centre, programs “a piece to honor the memory of Ron,” says Noya. “Pärt’s Cantus (in memory of Benjamin Britten) is a perfect tribute. It’s scored for just strings and one single bell; simple, yet very moving. Haldan Martinson, the great principal second violinist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was a close friend and colleague of Ron’s; Haldan suggested the Dvorak Violin Concerto. Finally, it’s the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth and we thought the Second Symphony would be a good choice, as the orchestra hasn’t played the work for a number of years.” In February, the spotlight shines on music inspired by Shakespeare, including orchestral excerpts from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet and music Shostakovich wrote for the 1964 film of Hamlet. The great Shakespearean actors Tina Packer (former artistic director of Shakespeare and Company), Jason Asprey, and Nigel Gore will narrate selections from the film. Continuing the legacy of collaboration established by Knudsen, the season ends in May with a Beethoven program featuring the Pastoral Symphony (No. 6) and the Choral Fantasy with pianist Jonathan Bass and the New World Chorale (recently heard in the Boston Ballet’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler by John Neumeier).
Two Family Discovery Concerts, in December and April, give youth and families an opportunity to experience music through programs with a multidisciplinary twist. These feature visual art, guest performers from the Boston Ballet School, the Newton All-City Treble Chorus, the All-City Orchestra, and a youth harp ensemble. And a festive Pops program in March offers “A Night in Old Vienna” with Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto performed by the 2013 winner of the Boston International Piano Competition.
More information is at www.newphil.org, or call 617-527-9717.
Gala 21st Season Opening Concerts
Saturday, November 7 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday November 8 at 3:00 p.m.
Francisco Noya, conductor; Haldan Martinson, violin
Pärt: Cantus (in Memory of Benjamin Britten)
Dvorak: Violin Concerto
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2