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New Bedford Symphony Orchestra makes a statement by featuring female composers throughout its season

By Keith Powers, Contributing Writer | SouthCoast Today, October 11, 2018

Change will come about because of programming like this. And the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra has to take great pride in taking a leadership position.

A shake-up in programming is dearly needed in the classical music world. Women and people of color are severely underrepresented in the concert hall, and the NBSO and music director Yaniv Dinur are taking steps to address that.

The NBSO’s 2018–19 season opens this Friday with a performance featuring Vivian Fung’s harp concerto, and on each of this season’s programs Dinur has included a major work by a woman composer.

Following Fung’s opening night piece, the January concert will have two works by Lili Boulanger; the February program includes Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi’s cello concerto; and the season finale includes Zosha Di Castri’s symphonic work “Lineage.”

It’s a bold initiative, and one that other orchestras should follow.

“This is a long overdue step,” Dinur said. “I listened to a lot of music, and there were a lot of hard decisions. There are so many good pieces.”

First up is Los Angeles–based Fung’s concerto, which was written for virtuoso harpist Bridget Kibbey, and will be performed by her. The program also includes Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

“One of the purposes of the piece is to showcase the different potentials of the harp,” Fung says. “So much harp music only relates to glissandi, and to French music. The harp has great range, and lyricism, and I find the low bass part to be really fascinating.”

When asked how the concerto is set up — whether the harpist blends with the orchestra, as in some concertos, or whether it’s more of a give-and-take — Fung says, “the harp ebbs and flows with the group. It’s more of a chamber piece, with everything in support of the harp. But then there are breakout moments for the orchestra, and some nice virtuosic displays by the harpist.”

Tarrodi’s cello concerto — performed in February with soloist Christine J. Lee — is subtitled “Highlands.”

“I was inspired by the landscape of the Scottish highlands — the green mountains, the heights and steep cliffs by the coast,” the composer said.

“On some level ‘Highlands’ is also connected to force and struggle — mainly nature’s force and struggle, but also one’s own.

“The soloist is a sort of ‘guide’ to the piece,” Tarrodi says. “And the orchestra follows.”

Tarrodi noted that similar issues of underrepresentation for women composers exist in her native Sweden.

“We have the same problems,” she admits, “although it has become much better. There is a group called KVAST (www.eng.kvast.org), of Swedish female composers. KVAST put together a database with works by female composers, both in history and now, and traveled around Sweden to different orchestras, giving them tips about repertoire. I think that is a great way to address the problem.”

In May’s season finale concert, “Lineage” by the Canadian-born, and now New York–based Zosha Di Castri will be the highlight.

A professor of composition at Columbia — spending this year in Paris — Di Castri says “Lineage” “explores the idea of what is passed down.”

“I loved listening to my grandparents tell stories about ‘the old-country,’ or of life in the village,” she said. “These tales were so real through their repetition, and yet so foreign and removed from my own experience. The resulting music is an abstract reflection, on change and consistency.”

Di Castri also points to new resources that are available to help address the imbalance in repertory.

“The Composer Diversity Database (composerdiversity.com) and the Many Many Woman Index (manymanywomen.com) are great resources for discovering new voices,” she says. “Including more contemporary music will also help in this regard, as well as having more women in artistic leadership positions (this includes conductors).”

She also thinks that concert-goers can play a part. “Audience members can also take more responsibility by putting pressure on their local concert halls,” she says, “especially when they see programs featuring only men. We want our culture to reflect the diversity of our society, and for our children, to show them that representation matters.”

The NBSO’s 2018–19 season begins on Friday, Oct. 12, in the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, with music director Yaniv Dinur conducting a program that includes Vivian Fung’s Harp Concerto and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. For information and tickets visit www.nbsymphony.org or call the Z box office at 508-994-2900.


Sights and sounds: The New Bedford Symphony Orchestra

Amid the woodwinds, brass and strings, Standard-Times photographer Peter Pereira joined the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra as it came together this year under new music director Yaniv Dinur. He captured these images of the musicians bringing beautiful music to the SouthCoast Community. Meanwhile, music writer Keith Powers talked with some of those musicians about their passion for playing and the juggling act life as a performer requires. | SouthCoast Today, December 23, 2017 | View article with photos.

Always be prepared

Think of it as emergency supplies — like jumper cables or a jack.

“You never know if one thing will become another thing,” says principal timpanist Eric Huber, “and so this time of year my tux stays in the car.”

Huber doesn’t always need to change into his tux while driving down the highway, but it happens.

“I got a phone call from the Boston Pops,” he said. “They told me, ‘You have to get here right now.’ I had to walk onstage while the show was happening.

“I remember, they were doing ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ and in the part where Santa comes down the chimney, I’m supposed to play a slide whistle.

“I couldn’t find it. The part was coming up fast and I was looking all over for it. Fortunately, it turned up just before I needed it.”

Playing percussion doesn’t always involve frantic searches for your instrument. But it does mean always playing a variety of them.

“When you go to an audition, it’s not like you bring your own violin,” he says. “It’s always something foreign to you, and you don’t know what kind of condition it’s in. But everyone has the same disadvantage.”

Huber started with the NBSO in 2011, auditioning for then-maestro David MacKenzie.

“It was my first year after getting my masters at BU,” says the Malden resident. “I didn’t expect to audition for principal, but when you’re in school, you take every audition.”

Huber continues to play in the Boston Pops —“I played with them for three years before I had a rehearsal,” he says of the notoriously last-minute gigs —the Boston Ballet, and he also teaches at the Powers School of Music.

“You have to be multifaceted,” he says. “Being a freelancer, you have to be comfortable teaching, and taking advantage of opportunities.”

So keep the tux in the back seat.

Always learning

I love the process of working on a new piece,” said violinist Kyra Davies, “of having a dialogue with a living composer. The process means something different then. The music is something living, something changing.”

Davies, who lives in Cambridge, has played in the NBSO for about 10 years. She graduated from Rice University’s prestigious Shepherd School of Music at 20.

She’s also a member of the Semiosis Quartet — “exclusively new music,” she says — the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (more new music), symphonies in Portland, Chattanooga, South Florida and elsewhere. She also performs at North Shore Music Theatre, and has toured with Josh Groban and others. She’s also a fiddler, and plays (and sings) Celtic traditional music in the Boston area.

It’s a whirlwind.

“Everything is different, and I like that,” she says. “Our quartet has a system — we compile all the groups we play with, and schedule our rehearsals in between. So if there is a week when things are not going so great, I get to play chamber music.

“The quartet definitely has some goals, and we’re applying for fellowships and educational residencies,” she said about the future. “The education is important.

“That’s a great thing with New Bedford — we have the best educational programs,” she says. “Three or four years ago we did a thing in the schools about symmetry, talking about aspects of that in music, and in subjects like math and architecture. The kids wrote some pieces on the theme, and David MacKenzie orchestrated them. They loved seeing their pieces being staged.”

Ready for an adventure

“It’s an incredible juggling act,” says principal clarinet Margo McGowan of the freelance musician’s life. “You start working, and it just feeds itself.”

McGowan goes farther back than most players with the NBSO, starting under conductor F. John Adams “sometime in the 1990s.”

McGowan is still doing lots of things, but now she’s principal clarinet in New Bedford. She’s also second clarinet with the Landmarks Orchestra, whose summer season keeps the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade alive. She was principal clarinet with one of the great small opera companies — “I love to work with singers,” she says — the now-defunct Boston Academy of Music.

She’s frequently onstage with the Boston Ballet, Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Symphony New Hampshire, and the Lexington Symphony. She finds time for chamber music in the Northeast Quintet as well. As a teacher, she’s an adjunct at Brandeis, Phillips Academy and in the prep division at New England Conservatory.

“It’s a choice,” she says. “I was principal at the Boston Academy of Music for 20 years, a position that I loved. I loved playing opera the best, and when you’re with people for so long, you develop a rapport. You know what they’re going to do.

“It’s like that now with the winds in New Bedford,” she says. “We have a chance to grow, and Yaniv wants us to get really good. He’s excited about having this orchestra, and he’s already done some adventurous programming.”

New father juggles life, work and music

Bassoonists have it better, and worse.

“There’s less competition among players,” says NBSO’s principal bassoonist Mike Mechanic, who started with the orchestra in 2015. “But there’s also less demand as well.”

“Less demand” isn’t something you’d think of when it comes to Mechanic’s schedule. He doesn’t just balance various wind sections — he balances a new-born as well. “I had to bail out of the last concert because my wife had the baby that week,” he said.

His day may include any number of things — he’s a stay-a-home dad, teaches privately, and has just started selling real estate this year, along with his orchestral responsibilities.

His wife is a nurse — “she has the job that pays real money,” says the Pawtucket resident. So family life comes first — the grandparents help out — but music-making is still a priority.

Mechanic studied at DePaul University, and at Juilliard. “I’ve always been drawn to the texture and sonorities of the orchestral wind section,” he says. “As a bassoonist, you get to shape the foundation of the sound in the section.”

Balancing the classic and the modern

For many of the musicians in the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, variety comes in performing with a number of different orchestras and colleagues. For principal viola Anna Griffis, variety comes in different instruments and styles — Baroque violin, and classical viola — but also in different professional functions.

Griffis also serves as executive director of Boston’s new music Ludovico Ensemble — “stage managing, librarian, personnel and playing with the group,” she says, “something I’ve been doing since my first year of undergraduate school.

Add to that a regular part-time position at Tufts University — “generally PR work, but really a lot of the same things I do for Ludovico” — performing regularly with the Albany Symphony, and various other violin or viola gigs that come around, and Griffis is a busy musician.

“It’s really exciting and energizing, but it’s also really hard,” she says of the balance. “We’re all doing a million things, and wearing a million different hats. I think that teachers and institutions are catching up now, on how things are going in the music world. It’s a changing career, and musicians need to know how to write a bio, or build a press release. You just can’t have a successful concert without administrative support.”

Onstage, Griffis is one of a surprisingly robust group of musicians who bounce back and forth between early music styles and classical playing. But Griffis does it on different instruments.

“Generally, I play Baroque violin, or classical viola,” she says. “I trained as a violinist, and played viola in graduate school. There’s a lot of great early music in Boston,” says Griffis, who has played with Emmanuel Music and at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel.

“Whatever it is, I try to do it at the highest level.”

Keeping an eye on the future

Concertmaster Jesse Holstein is one of the most accomplished and distinguished members of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra.

He’s also conducted a disco orchestra using a turkey baster.

Even though many concertmasters do turn to conducting later in life, don’t expect that to happen with Holstein.

“Not conducting,” he says of the future. “I’m interested in the craft, but I want to grow as a player and a teacher.”

Holstein is the leader of the NBSO from his first violin chair; the orchestra’s official link to the music director.

He’s also the longstanding member of Providence’s groundbreaking Community MusicWorks, bringing free music lessons and instruments to the city’s young population. He’s on the Brown and Providence college faculties. He plays chamber music in the summers in places like Vail, Colorado, and Bozeman, Montana, and Rockport, Maine.

A graduate of Oberlin (that’s where he led the Royal Farfisa Disco Juggernaut), and New England Conservatory, Jesse began as a Suzuki kid when he was five years old. He’s been with the NBSO since 2000, and became concertmaster in 2003. And now he’s even more involved with the orchestra, taking on the role as a sort of community liaison.

“My relationship deepened this year,” he says. “I started a chamber group with the youth symphony. I’ve been making appearances — this past month I played at AHA! one night, and I played a recital at the Rotch-Jones-Duff House. I want to see the orchestra thrive.

“There’s a lot of things that can happen,” he says, thinking about the future under new director Yaniv Dinur. “He wants to hold us to a higher standard, and I’m all for that. I’d like to see some concerts done twice, maybe somewhere else on the South Coast. I’d like to see the chamber music program grow — that’s where I grew to love music. I’d like to see more kids in the youth orchestra, and some more coaches.

“Yaniv comes from a really good orchestra in Milwaukee, and it helps to have his level of expectation. He’s not going to let us think that we’re just a regional orchestra, and we can let some things go. He’s mellow, but he brings a lot of intensity too.

“Most of all, this is still a fun group to play with, and I never want that to change.”


NBSO rises to Dinur’s challenge in season opener

By Keith Powers, Contributing Writer | SouthCoast Today, September 28, 2017

If first impressions are anything to go by, the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra will be working very hard under new music director Yaniv Dinur.

In a bracing opening night program Saturday evening at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, Dinur challenged his players with an African-percussion inspired overture, a virtuosic violin concerto, and one of the seminal orchestral tests of the repertory. The results were not uniformly successful, but there was brilliant playing all evening—and the hopes for future rewards in this new partnership run high.

Derek Bermel’s helter-skelter “Dust Dances” is based on a western African percussion tradition. Bermel’s work explores folk melodies in a pentatonic scale, with percussion and horns layering polyrhythmic flavors over more traditional string playing.

Dinur largely led the strings, and let his back-of-the-stage musicians add their colors. The result was a noisy confection, with apparently lots of guess-work going on throughout the orchestra.

Leonard Bernstein arrived to set things straight. Not with any simple tunes or straightforward music, mind you — his “Serenade, after Plato’s Symposium,” is as difficult a violin concerto as you can find.

The music world celebrates Bernstein’s centenary (born 1918) this season, and the fact that many orchestras are programming his compositions is a good thing. Daniel Chong, first violinist of the Parker Quartet, joined the NBSO as soloist.

Just memorizing this work is challenge enough. With five movements, which to Bernstein’s mind represent various Socratic dialogues between noted Greek playwrights and philosophers, the composer has created a unique concerto that abandons traditional forms, and vigorously explores the possibilities between soloist and ensemble.

Chong played beautifully. Each of the movements aims to recreate some aspect of Plato’s thoughts, being discussed in Socratic, give-and-take fashion. That sometimes occurs as banter between soloist and orchestra, as in the scherzo-like third movement. Sometimes as soloist in duets, as in a short exchange between Chong and concertmaster Jesse Holstein in
the gorgeous, languid fourth movement. Or again in the opening of the finale, in an exchange with cellist Shay Rudolph.

The orchestra sounded particularly well prepared, and Chong blazed through some truly difficult music. He stood out especially in a challenging cadenza, set in the fourth movement. Barely a melody — all gesture, full of double-stops and challenging intervals — Chong carved it out of almost nothing, making complete sense of the thorny passage, and providing context to the audience.

All the Mahler symphonies are journeys. In fact, each movement of each symphony takes a journey. The evening closed with Mahler’s First, nicknamed the Titan, and it was Dinur’s turn to impress with memory — conducting the hour-long work without the score.

Offstage horns in the opening moments signal the fact that Mahler’s ideas travel far. Fragmented bird-calls, fanfares and bits of melody blend in a unique movement that has hints of pastorale, and builds to a sturdy climax.

The second movement, evoking a country dance (the Ländler) similar to a waltz, was played with confidence and charm. It’s a scherzo, and the middle trio section keeps the dance-like quality, but shifts the mood delicately to introspection.

The third movement is nothing if not eerie. Alert listeners may have heard the round we know as “Frère Jacques” — but in a minor mode, originating in the solo bass (principal Reginald Lamb), and progressing through the darker instruments. The movement remains unrelentingly grim, with martial timpani beats a recurring reminder.

The finale wanders impetuously far from the home key, before finding its way back to the front door.

There were moments of musical insight throughout the performance. The horns and winds, constantly exposed in solo moments, played stoutly. There were also many moments when the orchestra seemed content simply to get to the notes of this challenging work. Like all journeys, there are some detours and wrong turns.

In the end, it was great to see the NBSO tackle such a robust program, starting off a new season — and a new era under Yaniv Dinur — with ambition and style.


Incoming orchestra director lays out a challenging and diverse season

By Keith Powers, Contributing Writer | SouthCoast Today, September 7, 2017

“It was very important for me to make a statement at the first concert,” says newly appointed New Bedford Symphony Orchestra music director Yaniv Dinur.

So he went on the Internet.

It’s just a sign of the times, and Dinur normally operates just like any conductor would — following his love of music, and making programs that reflect it, and that complement each other.

But the Internet helped for this season, especially for Sept. 23rd’s opening night.

Online searches led Dinur to violinist Daniel Chong, first violinist in the Grammy-winning Parker String Quartet, who will highlight the season-opening program that pays tribute to Leonard Bernstein.

In addition to the above subscription season concerts, pianist Roberto Plano gives gives a free concert on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m. at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. The program will include music by Liszt, Villa-Lobos, Ginastera and Gershwin, including his “Rhapsody in Blue.” General admission tickets are available in person only at the Zeiterion box office.

Many orchestras around the world will honor the centenary of Bernstein’s birth this season, and the NBSO is no different. Chong will solo in Bernstein’s “Serenade: After Plato’s Symposium.”

“I was looking for the right soloist to play the piece,” Dinur says. “Suddenly I found a video of this quartet, and this incredible violinist. I was so impressed with his playing and temperament. I hadn’t met him, but I thought he would be perfect for the ‘Serenade.’”

American composer Derek Bermel’s “Dust Dances” — a work Dinur studied with the composer, and performed as a conducting student at the University of Michigan — opens the evening. Also on the program is the first symphony of Gustav Mahler, whose popularity Bernstein was almost singlehandedly responsible for rescuing in the 1950s.

The November NBSO concert has a similar genesis. “It was another one of those late night searches,” Dinur says. “I heard him on YouTube; he was this amazing guitar player.”

Dinur is talking about Lauri Porra — who turns out to be the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s great-grandson, as well as being that amazing guitar player, and a composer. All of this led to Porra being invited to perform with the NBSO, in a program that will include his own concerto for electric bass guitar, as well as his great-grandfather’s First Symphony.

Season planning was not all done online, of course. Reputation has lots to do with it, and a January appearance by the renowned pianist Inon Barnatan was one of the first things Dinur arranged after he was named music director in the spring.

“We knew each other,” Dinur says of his fellow Israeli, who is currently in the midst of a three-year appointment as artist-in-association with the New York Philharmonic. “But we’ve never performed together. As soon as I got the job, he was the first one I called.

“I wanted to do Rachmaninov Three, and I was glad he was up for it. He’s a great artist, sensitive and virtuosic.

“This whole season is very special to me,” Dinur says. “One thing I wanted to do this year was ‘Rite of Spring’ — I just kept moving the parts around until I had a fit.”

Stravinsky’s great work appears on the January program, a nice addition to the Rachmaninov concerto.

“It’s such a different language,” Dinur says, “but both composers came on a similar journey, from Russia to California.”

Another formidable concert features a familiar musician—pianist Roberto Plano. Plano returns to the NBSO in May, to perform Ravel’s piano concertos — both the G major, and the Left-Hand concerto — on the same program. Debussy’s “La Mer” makes it an all-French evening.

“When I suggested both Ravel concertos, I think Roberto was shocked,” Dinur says. “Although he eventually said, ‘I like challenges, and I’m up for it.’

“I’ve always wanted to do both concertos on the same program. Ravel worked on them at the same time, but they’re like night and day. The G major is so light and joyful, and the left-hand is so dark. I hope Roberto is not sorry that he ever met me.”

Pops programs — the Holiday Pops in December, and a special film score program in March — fill out the season.

“I will continue to look for things that the NBSO hasn’t played in the last 15 years or so,” Dinur says. “There was no room for Beethoven this year — that’s bread and butter. I will definitely do Beethoven next season. Each of his symphonies is a different challenge.

“Mozart — my favorite composer — he must be included. And I will continue to do more contemporary work by American composers.

“This is the first time that I get to bring all my ideas together,” he says. “More than that — it’s also just a lot of fun.”


A Day In The Life Of An Artist: Yaniv Dinur

The conductor describes a day filled with coffee and good food, music and friends…and a raccoon…at the 2017 Round Top Music Festival.

By Catherine Lu | Houston Public Media, July 03, 2017

What do artists do in their free time? What inspires them in their everyday life? How do they start their day, tackle their creative processes, balance work-life, and then unwind – all within 24 hours?

In this series, “A Day in the Life of an Artist,” we’ll invite artists to answer those questions by pulling back the curtain on one day in their lives.

Born in Jerusalem in 1981, Yaniv Dinur is the Assistant Conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the New Bedford Symphony in Massachusetts. A fun fact is that Maestro Dinur started his conducting career at the age of 19, performing with the Israel Camerata, making him the youngest conductor ever to conduct an orchestra in Israel. Since then, he has conducted orchestras in Israel, Europe, The United States, Canada and Mexico, and he has won numerous international conducting competitions.

This week, Yaniv Dinur is in residence at the 2017 Round Top Music Festival, where he is preparing to conduct a program of masterpieces by Rossini, Brahms and Dvorak, as well as the annual Patriotic Concert. Now in its 47th season, the Round Top Music Festival is considered the “Tanglewood” of the Lone Star State. A summer conservatory for young professional musicians, distinguished faculty artists and guest conductors, the festival is also famous for its 210-acre campus in the Texas Hill Country, set amidst country roads, forests, gardens, Victorian homes and architecture.

Here is how conductor Yaniv Dinur spent June 29, 2017:

9:30am

I slept in and missed breakfast. I’m not a morning person and, thankfully, rehearsal is not until 3:30pm. I am in search for coffee, without which I will be doomed. Yuji Kano, one of the interns, offers to drive me to the nearest coffee shop – Espressions Coffee & Art. They give a free cup of coffee per day to any Round Top Festival participant who comes over. They also make me a delicious breakfast burrito.

10:30am

Yuji gives me a tour of the plaza at Festival Hill, as well as the swimming pool. The area looks like a resort, and the water is calling me to jump in. But something is bothering me. I’ve had that sensation before. Yes – it’s my conscience. I still have to do some work on the score before rehearsal. With a heavy heart, I decide to go back to my room and study.

12:30pm

Lunch time. One of the Festival managers tells me that the chef used to cook for Frank Sinatra. I don’t know if he was joking or not, but I decide to believe him. The food is delicious and includes different types of desserts that change every day. There is drip coffee available, but I learned that a secret espresso machine lives in the kitchen. I sneak in there and make myself a double espresso. I decide to take my strawberry rhubarb pie in a box and eat it in my room.

3:00pm

I am heading over to the concert hall for rehearsal. This is my favorite time of day, because I get to work with the fantastic orchestra of the Round Top Festival. The students who play in the orchestra are between 17 – 29 years old and come from 17 different countries. We are rehearsing for two different programs this week. The first one includes Rossini’s Overture to La Gazza Ladra, Brahms’ Violin Concerto with Regis Pasquier, and Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The second concert is a 4th of July program that features Gershwin’s American in Paris, a medley from Porgy and Bess for Trumpet & Orchestra with Raymond Riccomini (trumpet player of the Metropolitan Opera), Gershwin’s Piano Concerto with James Dick (founder of the Round Top Festival), and more. Lots of work to do, and not a lot of time. We work hard, and by 6pm when the rehearsal ends, both the players and I are exhausted and hungry.

6:30pm

Alain Déclert, the Festival’s Program Director, is picking me up to have dinner at his place. He lives in a beautiful house in the middle of the forest. The two other guests are French like Alain – pianist Francois Dumont and violinist Regis Pasquier. Alain is serving us salad, paella, and for dessert – crème renversée. And wine. Lots of wine. They all speak in a mix of French and English and I’m trying to follow. Regis is telling funny, amazing stories about people he had met and played with – great conductors like Leonard Bernstein, Lorin Maazel, and George Szell. He even ran into Salvador Dalí one time in New York. Alain is an animal lover. He feeds two families of about 10 raccoons that live around his house. At around 9pm, a raccoon appears at the window to remind Alain that it’s almost time to eat. (Take a good look at the back of the photo.)

The night keeps going, we drink more wine and get into an argument about musical ornaments, grace notes, trills, et cetera. Each of us goes up to the piano and plays a passage that challenges the different theories. It’s already 11pm, and tomorrow we have a rehearsal at 9:30am. Yikes! But it’s too late to quit now… Goodnight!

Yaniv Dinur conducts the Texas Festival Orchestra at the 2017 Round Top Music Festival in two concerts: Saturday, July 1, 7:30pm, featuring Rossini’s Overture to La Gazza Ladra, Brahms’ Violin Concerto (with Regis Pasquier, violin) and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”; Sunday, July 2, 3pm, featuring a Patriotic Concert.


NBSO chooses new music director

By Keith Powers, Contributing Writer | SouthCoast Today, March 16, 2017

The search is over. The New Bedford Symphony Orchestra will announce today that Yaniv Dinur has been chosen as its next music director.

Dinur succeeds maestro David MacKenzie, who retired at the end of the 2015-16 season after 10 years. Dinur was chosen from four music director finalists, all of whom conducted one concert this past season. A letter detailing the choice has been sent out to all subscribers and symphony supporters on Thursday.

Dinur will join the NBSO with a three-year contract, and, as the orchestra’s president and CEO David Prentiss says, “it is our intent that he become an integral part of our community. We chose him, in part, because we were convinced that’s what he wanted, too.”

Dinur will maintain his current position as assistant conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and in addition will lead the NBSO in “all of our subscription, pops and educational programs,” according to Prentiss.

Each of the four finalists — Dinur, Christopher James Lees, David Amado, and Dirk Meyer — spent a week in rehearsals with the orchestra, met with NBSO supporters, gave a pre-concert lecture, and then conducted a concert.

The process engaged the community in unexpected ways, said Lee Heald, director of AHA! New Bedford, who attended three of the four finalists’ concerts.

“I was on the board of the symphony years ago,” she said, “and this board has done a spectacular job of involving the community in the process of choosing a new director.

“It was brilliant to get people engaged. There was more conversation in the audience about the style and the engagement and the choice of music, and I think it really connected people with the fun and excitement — and the difficulty of choosing.“

Dinur led the January subscription program, which included John Adams’s “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto with soloist Yakov Kasman, and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.

He drew high marks not only for the music-making, but also for his communication with the musicians in rehearsal and with the audience.

“After every concert we gave a survey to all of the musicians,” Prentiss says. “We got great input; our musicians took it very seriously. Obviously, individual musicians each had a favorite, but there was a high level of respect for all of the candidates.”

In the end, the final decision came down to a 12-person search committee comprised of six musicians and six trustees, including Prentiss.

“The discussion we had was really fascinating,” Prentiss said of the committee. “Each of the finalists had only one week, and so we had to extrapolate: ‘If he worked with us for a whole year, what could we do together?’

“We were also very focused on rehearsals, and Yaniv got really high marks on that.”

After a season of well-regarded concerts featuring a wide range of repertory and conducting styles, in the end, there could be no bad choice, Prentiss said.

“All of them had something special to offer,” Prentiss said. “It was interesting to see how the season went. Toward the end, a lot of momentum was built up. I’m curious to see how that translates to next year.”

Dinur, in an emailed note, said, “It is a joy to be joining such a wonderful group of musicians, and a passionate and innovative staff. The week I spent making music with the New Bedford Symphony was not only inspiring and rewarding — it was also great fun.”

The orchestra and the community get a chance to welcome Dinur to New Bedford with an open reception on Tuesday, March 28, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Harbor View Gallery at the Whaling Museum.


Symphony sees humor, energy, youth in new conductor

By Jennette Barnes | SouthCoast Today, March 29, 2017

On a street in New Orleans several years ago, Yaniv Dinur, appointed this month as music director and conductor of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, had an experience he will never forget. It showed him, in an unexpected way, how much music can affect someone.

He shared the story with musicians and fans of the symphony Tuesday at a welcome reception at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

On the occasion in question, he made a guest appearance with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. The next day, he had time for a walk in the French Quarter before catching a flight out of town. He came upon a man rehearsing for a show — “something crazy,” like throwing swords in the air and standing on a ball, he said.

“He stopped me and said, ‘Excuse me, random question: Were you conducting the orchestra last night?’” Dinur said.

Yes, he had. Dinur asked if the sword-throwing man had been at the concert, and the man said yes. The man told the conductor he enjoyed the concert, but what was the second piece they played?

It was Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 6, which Dinur said is rarely played.

“It’s a very strange piece, but a very beautiful piece,” he explained Tuesday. So he told the man about the piece.

The man said he had never heard it before, and when he heard it, ”‘It made me regret things that I have done in my life,’” Dinur said.

Classical music can affect you, he told the well-wishers at the Whaling Museum. It can give you an experience that other types of music cannot, because in a fast-paced world of three-minute pop songs, a classical piece that lasts 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or sometimes even more, “can give you … an experience of a journey, of forgetting about this fast pace and concentrating about yourself, about your own experience, about your own thoughts,” he said.

Dinur cracked jokes and had the room’s full attention. His engaging demeanor helped make him the symphony’s top pick to succeed David MacKenzie, who retired at the end of the 2015-16 season after 10 years. Four finalists each conducted a concert and gave a talk.

Violinist Ethan Wood of New Bedford, assistant concertmaster, said Dinur has a great sense of humor, and that he made the musicians feel at home.

“He has a very warm and generous energy,” he said.

Two symphony volunteers from South Dartmouth gave him their enthusiastic approval. Margaret Jones said that during the audition concert, “I was just spellbound watching his conducting.” And fellow volunteer Shirley Butterworth said “We were mesmerized by it. I don’t think we were breathing.”

David Prentiss, president and CEO of the symphony, introduced Dinur and his fiancee, Christina Tucker. Dinur is assistant conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and he will retain that role and travel to New Bedford — a not-uncommon practice in the orchestral world. In addition to traditional concerts, his plans for New Bedford include doing educational programs for children and bringing concerts to unconventional venues, he said.

Born in 1981 in Jerusalem, Dinur has performed with orchestras in Israel, Europe, the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In an interview, he said he came to the United States almost 10 years ago to attend the University of Michigan, where he earned a doctorate in orchestral conducting. This is his first music directorship.

He said next season’s program will include both masterpieces from the past and new music, possibly from contemporary American composers, such as Ted Hearne and Andrew Norman.

Supporters praised his youthful energy, and he in turn praised the symphony’s openness to new things.

He was attracted to New Bedford, he said, because the orchestra already plays at a very high level and because the organization is eager to try new things and grow.


Dinur impressive in audition with New Bedford Symphony Orchestra

By Keith Powers, Contributing Writer | SouthCoast Today, January 26, 2017

In a program that exuded confidence, Yaniv Dinur led the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra through rousing performances of works by John Adams, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky Saturday evening in the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.

Dinur, the third of four conductor finalists for the permanent position of music director at the NBSO, stated his case with authority. The orchestra’s preparation was obvious; Dinur’s leadership on the podium was intense, but he never over-managed; the results were uniformly engaging.

The program opened with John Adams’ popular snippet, “Short Ride in a Fast Machine.” Yoked tightly to the incessant tapping of wood blocks, played here alertly by principal percussionist Yumiko Watanabe, “Short Ride” offers minimalist sensibilities—ostinato patterns, gradual modulations in key, a playful sense of interaction — but never gets overwhelmed by those sensibilities.

The wood blocks make the work. Hardly a boring, repetitive, on-the-beat notation, the percussionist is required to follow a kind of rhythmic dissonance, alternating the beat and performing “duets” with brass and winds. Watanabe drove the piece forward with elegance and assuredness.

Piano soloist Yakov Kasman joined the orchestra for Rachmaninov’s Fourth Concerto. The fragmented structure of the first movement (Rachmaninov tinkered continually with this work, and his revisions left many musical ideas only hinted at) presents challenges for soloist and listener. Kasman did a solid job phrasing the movement, striving for articulation.

The middle movement holds no such shortcomings. A thoughtful Largo, delicate and airy, the section has the soloist sketching out lush phrases, with largely unison orchestral accompaniment.

The finale slips back into a fragments, but here the jazzy underpinnings, coupled with a section that unabashedly recalls Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” make the disjointed nature seem appropriate.

The playing was superb — soloist listening to orchestra, orchestra listening to soloist, and Dinur carefully maintaining the balances. One was surprised that no encore was demanded of Kasman.

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony closed the program, in brilliant fashion. Working without the score, Dinur made his most distinct impression of the evening.

The work flanks two ingenious middle movements with more boisterous outer ones. Brass and winds dominate the opening and closing sections; strings occupy the middle movements.

The Andante Sostenuto opening exposes the horns right from the start; the entire section played crisply, sketching out the lyrical melody with brassy force.

Pizzicato dominates the middle sections, especially the third movement Scherzo. Concertmaster Jesse Holstein and his string section had clearly worked over its challenges — playing an entire movement of unison pizzicato is no mean feat. Accents from principals Timothy Macri (flute), Laura Shamu (oboe), Margo McGowan (clarinet) and Michael Mechanic (bassoon) wove through the string section’s taut ensemble plucking.

For Dinur, it was an impressive audition. His downbeat was almost always visible to the orchestra, but he was easy about it, not insistent. Understated and assured, he showed trust in his players and in his own preparation of the group. He was rewarded with a terrific performance.

The NBSO’s next concert will be Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.

Dirk Meyer, the fourth candidate to replace David MacKenzie as music director, will conduct a program of del Águila, Beethoven and Rachmaninov, with guest artist Sheng Cai, piano.


WATCH: Live with conductor Yaniv Dinur - An American in Russia

100 Years Transforming Lives through Music: The New Bedford Symphony Orchestra

By Elizabeth R. Elstien | MassRealty, Fall 2015

You won’t want to miss the upcoming centennial performance of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra (NBSO) on September 19, 2015. The 2015-2016 opening performance will feature a special 100th birthday celebration. The season features everything from Mussorgsky and Mendelssohn to Bernstein and Beethoven, highlighting the range of composers showcased.

Presenting six classical and a family holiday pops concert, plus a new four-concert series of chamber music each year, the NBSO maintains exceptional community support. This community support comes in the form of benefit concert attendance, concert sponsorships by individuals and businesses, program advertising, and donations and contributions from local charitable foundations and cultural councils that primarily fund NBSO’s vast education programs.

People keep coming back and support the organization not just for the music, but also for the concert happenings. Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Conee Sousa says, “We usually have something going on before and after each concert - program talks, receptions, celebrations.”

The NBSO holds most of its performances at the 1926-built and artfully restored Zeiterion Performing Arts Center (known as ‘The Z’) on Purchase Street in downtown New Bedford with seating for 1,200 attendees. Chamber music concerts take place at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Marion, and Grace Episcopal Church in New Bedford.

Although concerts are central to the NBSO’s mission, education is also key to the organization’s role in the community, as evidenced by their amazingly creative school-based programs. Musical concepts and literature make up the pre-school Symphony Tales program where Music Director and Conductor Dr. David MacKenzie writes a composition for each book and an NBSO musician accompanies the reading to perform it. Elementary children hear a series of 5-minute excerpts of classical music and short narration via Music in the Mornings program. Sousa says, “The series repeats after five years, so students will hear hundreds of different classical works before they go on to middle school.”

But that’s not all. NSBO’s world-renowned guest artists perform and talk to students at local schools. “But our biggest impact comes from our Learning in Concert program,” Sousa explai year, connecting shared themes in music with traditional academic subjects. We’ve explored topics like the sounds and shapes of symmetry and creative contrast with thousands of local students.” This culminates in the NBSO’s Young People’s Concerts where youth submissions of artwork, videos and musical compositions are presented on a giant screen over the orchestra.

Hands-on youth music education is always in full swing with NBSO. Their Youth Orchestra, open to Southeast Massachusetts music students in 1st grade through age 21 during the school year, consists of four orchestras. Auditions decide orchestra placement and seating assignments and students must audition each year for acceptance. The NBSO Youth Orchestra does four scheduled concerts, including one with the NBSO itself, and performs at other community events.

Sousa says, “Our mission is to place the world’s finest music at the center of the cultural life of the South Coast community to enrich the lives of adults and children through the transforming power of great music.” In its one-hundredth year, the NBSO continues to make the sound of music a powerful tool for all ages.


NBSO season will celebrate major milestone

By Keith Powers, Contributing Writer | Standard-Times, May 28, 2015

It won’t start until September, but the party planning has already begun.

Robust improvement and greater health than ever before are not characteristics you would assign to most 100-year-olds. But with the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, that is certainly the case.

The orchestra marks its centenary next season, starting with an opening night performance Sept. 19 and continuing through the spring 2016. The anniversary does not only commemorate the founding of the orchestra, which began as a volunteer organization in 1915, founded by Clarence Arey, a New Bedford music educator. Next season also marks the final year of Maestro David MacKenzie’s tenure as music director, a decade-long stint on the podium that has seen the orchestra grow in quality and in ambition.

There’s more. The past decade has also seen the NBSO substantially increase its educational outreach into the community, an effort spearheaded by education director Terry Wolkowicz which has attracted national attention and provided significant results.

And even more. Boosted by these successes, CEO and orchestra president Dave Prentiss has begun the quiet phase of a capital campaign aimed at creating the NBSO’s first-ever endowment.

As with all quiet phases, Prentiss will only discuss the basics — that it will happen, that it’s targeted toward the endowment, and that it will reach “seven figures, for sure,” he says. “Let’s call it the centennial endowment campaign, for now.” A fall public announcement will likely coincide with opening night’s concert.

In the meantime, there’s a celebration to plan, “the party of the century,” as Prentiss puts it. The opening night program, which features the return of violin soloist Martin Chalifour, kicks off a season that “plays to our strengths,” Prentiss says. Chalifour will perform the Sibelius concerto, on a program that also includes Dvorak’s New World symphony.

“We will close off the street in front of the Z,” he says, “and make it something for the community.”

The season continues Oct. 18, with a performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah,” a joint production with members of the Sippican and Greater New Bedford Choral societies, and the Rhode Island College Concert choir— “acknowledging our local partnerships,” Prentiss says.

The esteemed pianist Anne-Marie McDermott joins the orchestra in November for Rachmaninov’s challenging “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” That concert also brings back Stephen Paulus’s “Sea Portraits,” which the NBSO commissioned for its 90th anniversary season, updated for this performance with a visual montage designed by photographer John Robson.

After the annual Holiday Pops concert in December, the NBSO will be joined by New York Philharmonic’s cello principal, Carter Brey, for the Schumann concerto in February, and by pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, whose career took off after a 2006 appearance with the NBSO, in April. Bavouzet will not only play the Ravel left-hand concerto, but will be joined by his pianist wife Andrea for Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Hands.

A program in May featuring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony concludes the 100th season, “and that one is all about David MacKenzie,” Prentiss says. “In his first concert he conducted Beethoven’s Seventh, and I think it’s fitting to close his tenure with the Ninth.

“The idea is to have something different and interesting for each concert,” Prentiss says. “In a way, it’s like a season full of desserts.”

Regarding the search for MacKenzie’s successor, Prentiss quickly points out that it’s in the preliminary phase. But the search committee—six board members, and six musicians—has already received 100 applications.

“It a really good range,” he says. “and kind of daunting. There are some very accomplished conductors, who have had great careers. There are a significant number of women and minority applicants as well. We will spend the summer paring the number down.

“What we are looking for is a strong partnership,” he says, “a commitment to an orchestra that puts on great concerts, and that serves the community.”

Prentiss plans to have the applicants whittled down to a handful by the 101st season, and to have a series of guest conductor-candidates alternate on the podium during that year. “We don’t want to turn it into a popularity contest,” he says, “but we definitely will want the community’s input.

“But first we want to get the next 100 years off to the right start, with a win-win season for everyone,” he says.

“When this orchestra was founded, it was a point of civic pride for every big city to have a symphony. I think part of the resurgence of the the NBSO, going back to the early 2000s, is that people recognize that New Bedford has a first-rate orchestra, that puts on great concerts. There’s a strong sense of civic pride, and I’d like to see that continuing.”

Subscriptions to the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra’s 100th anniversary season are on sale now. For complete information, visit … or call 508-999-6276.


NBSO staff make national arts presentation

Standard-Times, June 06, 2014

The New Bedford Symphony Orchestra continues to make a mark on a national stage.

Terry Wolkowicz, education director, and David MacKenzie, music director, recently presented at the National Arts & Education Forum in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“Contexts of Quality: What is Quality Arts Education?” was held May 14-16 and convened a national audience on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus for the purpose of brainstorming ideas, disseminating research, and developing strategies that advance best practices and shape policy recommendations that improve the quality of arts education in our schools, the NBSO said in a news release.

The forum is designed to engage those who attend through a series of sessions framed around key questions stemming from current issues in arts and education. During two days of sessions, they actively explored issues, shared emerging research, developed practical strategies, and shaped policy recommendations in arts education.

By drawing participants from a variety of disciplines and contexts, the goal is to give forum attendees multiple ways to increase access to quality arts education in the communities they serve.

Forum participants include K-12 school and university educators, teaching artists, professional development providers, researchers, administrators, and cultural organization leaders from across the country.

Wolkowicz and MacKenzie presented the session “Learning in Concert: Connecting Concepts Across the Arts and Academics” and shared the story, successes, struggles and assessments of the NBSO’s past year’s symmetry exploration in music education programming.

They showed how an arts organization can serve the real needs of the 21st century student and create curriculum that seamlessly connects to classroom teachers, fine arts teachers and their students. The session included a workshop on designing concept-based arts integration curriculum using a selected concept from classical music, including interactive activities that support deep understandings, multiple representations and transfer of learning.


Sights and Sounds: SouthCoast students get lesson in musical symmetry

By Brian J. Lowney | Standard-Times, March 07, 2014

Classical music and vibrant images of nature and familiar objects found in everyday life combined to give more than 2,400 students a unique audio and visual experience.

The occasion was the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra’s Annual Young People’s Concert, which took place Monday at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.

Titled Agents of the S.D.A. (Symmetry Detection Agency), this year’s concert and related educational curriculum explored the multidisciplinary concept of symmetry.

According to Terry Wolkowicz, volunteer education director for the NBSO, every year the orchestra picks a concept that is fundamental to music but is also shared by other disciplines, such as mathematics, writing or visual art.

During the hour-and-a-half long production, the young concertgoers and their chaperones heard symmetry in various classical music selections, and saw the concept depicted in slides showcasing the wonders of natural life and ordinary geometric shapes. In addition, Wolkowicz videotaped several students presenting examples of symmetry that were also displayed on a large screen suspended above the orchestra.

The audience enjoyed selections by Vivaldi, Haydn, Beethoven,Tchaikovsky and other noted composers.

Wolkowicz noted that more than 8,000 students in Grades 2-6 participated in this year’s program, which began last fall when a trio of NBSO musicians visited 50 public, private and parochial schools in communities ranging from Rhode Island to Cape Cod.

The musicians performed at school-wide assemblies to introduce the concept of symmetry in music, while Wolkowicz visited individual classrooms several weeks later and partnered with teachers to introduce activities geared in reinforce the idea.

The students learned about the three forms of symmetry — slide, mirror and flip reflection symmetry — and how the three forms can be found in musical compositions, as well as art, architecture and commonly found objects.

Slide symmetry can best be illustrated by a row of ducks of equal size, shape and measurements.

Mirror symmetry occurs when there are two similar objects going in opposite directions, while flip or reflection symmetry occurs when one item in a pair is flipped upside down to form a reflection of the other yet same object.

“When I went back to the classrooms the students showed me all the symmetrical evidence that they had discovered,” Wolkowicz noted, adding that the students were inducted into NBSO’s Symmetry Induction Agency and named “special agents.”

“This is the culminating event for our SDA agents,” Wolkowicz proclaimed just before the first of two concerts began.

Randolph Palada of Boston, the orchestra’s principal clarinetist and a member of the trio who visited the elementary schools, said he initially had doubts about the program, but those concerns quickly dissipated.

“I came in wondering how this classical music program would teach this symmetry concept,” he said.

“I was really surprised how well the kids were able to understand the concept and how the music was formed.”

David MacKenzie, NBSO music director and conductor, emphasized that the symmetry program was the most “educationally sound” children’s program that he’d ever conducted in 40 years, and that it taught the students an important concept that can be applied to other subjects, such as geometry. He added that education and artistic function are co-equal parts of the symphony orchestra’s mission.

Alaina Baptiste, a third grade teacher at the Rodman School in New Bedford, said her 27 students “absolutely loved” the program and were excited to attend the Zeiterion performance.

“They found symmetry in their reading, writing and math,” she said, adding that the students benefited from having Wolkowicz visit her classroom to reinforce the concept through various fun-filled activities.

According to Wolkowicz, the program was funded by grants, parent-teacher groups, school departments and benefactors, and has recently attracted a great deal of attention from other symphony orchestras around the country who are interested in sponsoring similar programs.


New Bedford Symphony Orchestra makes it work despite constant set of challenges

By Natalie Sherman | Standard-Times, December 02, 2012

On April, 1, 2006, the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra assembled to perform for the first time under a new conductor.

On the surface, it may have appeared to be a touchy time for the organization. Just a month before, the Board of Directors had announced its decision not to renew the contract of music director Philip Rice.

Rice, a Tennessee-based musician, had been brought in four years earlier and was widely credited with rebuilding an audience and restoring the quality of a symphony that had drifted in the 1980s and 1990s.

The orchestra at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center that night was scheduled to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, a smash success when it premiered in 1813 in Vienna, roughly 40 minutes of music that the composer considered one of his best works and that pulls the audience forward with a near-frenzy of strings and percussion.

Rice’s replacement, David Mackenzie, who brought more than 30 years of experience in orchestras around the world, stood before a full audience and conducted the piece from memory, bringing the crowd to its feet in rapturous applause.

“The audience went wild,” said NBSO executive director David Prentiss, a longtime board member, and former Boston lawyer and professor at UMass Dartmouth who was appointed in 2008. “I don’t know — can you say that about classical music?”

For the NBSO, the 2006 Beethoven concert marked a turning point in its bounce back into one of the area’s most acclaimed cultural institutions.

“Just to show that there could be that kind of transition, even during a point of controversy, and to feel like, ‘Wait a minute, the sky isn’t falling. This is a formidable artist here and he’s proven and demonstrated that and yet he can take us further into the other needs … That, from an organization point of view was pivotal,” said Tom Hallam, the president of the NBSO Board at the time.

STRIKING A CHORD

Nationwide, orchestras face a mix of progressively rising labor costs and declining audiences, set against the backdrop of widespread financial strain. Even in Massachusetts, the state with the highest rate of attendance in the country, just 14.3 percent of adults went to one concert a year, according to a 2009 National Endowment for the Arts study. That dynamic has led to dramatic labor disputes and bankruptcies in some cities, including Honolulu, San Jose and Philadelphia.

Smaller orchestras, unencumbered by union contracts and real estate, have proven to be more nimble, but still face a daunting set of challenges.

“This is hard to do and there’s been serious decline,” said William Weber, a professor emeritus at Cal State Long Beach, who has written about the history of music and provided feedback to the NBSO as it went through its five-year planning process. “It all depends on leadership and local resources.”

Since 2006, the NBSO has expanded by nearly all measures. Its season now runs seven concerts, instead of three; the number of subscribers has risen from roughly 600 to 800; revenues have increased from about $500,000 to $900,000; and its educational programs now include a 100-person youth orchestra, an 80-person “school strings” program and master classes.

Tabor Academy Music Department chairman Philip Sanborn, who conducts the Tri-County Symphonic Band, said the NBSO was on “life-support” when he played for them in the 1980s but has come “leaps and bounds” in the last decade.

“We look at the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra and we say, ‘Wow. Those guys are really doing it right,” he said.

RAMPING UP

NBSO’s current leadership took over roughly six years ago, after a period in which the board pushed to rebuild the audience through better marketing and music. The effort was successful— subscribers grew from about 200 to 600 —but even today, ticket sales cover just about one third of the NBSO budget, a proportion that is common throughout the industry.

By 2005, board members said it became clear the NBSO would have to deepen its community impact in order to grow.

“As we began to strengthen, we realized that always going back to the same people for the same reason was not sustainable,” Hallam said, who urged an emphasis on educational programming.

That year, Hallam recruited MacKenzie, whom he had worked with more than 20 years earlier when Hallam founded the Sandy Strings Chamber Orchestra (now the Georgia Philharmonic), to develop a plan to expand the orchestra’s educational programs.

The strategy — a double whammy of winning community support and building future audiences — isn’t unique to New Bedford, but few orchestras have developed their offerings to such scale or scope, making education as core to the mission as music.

“They realize that the day of the symphony orchestra as sort of a pedestal-type ensemble is gone,” said concertmaster Jesse Holstein, a violinist who has played with the orchestra for more than 10 years. “We want to be a resource for the community … I think that’s what the symphony orchestra needs in the 21st century.”

According to NBSO’s 2012 five-year plan, the orchestra spends more than $200,000 annually on its education programs that reach about 30,000 students each year.

NBSO has pushed to make itself a presence inside schools, sending orchestra members to perform as guest artists, offering weekly classes and expanding to a full-blown youth orchestra. “Symphony Tales,” a newer offering that matches music to stories, draws on theories of early learning to promote literacy in children ages 4-7.

“There’s no other orchestra in the country that is doing what we’re doing with musical storytime,” said Terry Wolkowicz, a New England Conservatory grad with a master’s in education from Harvard, who volunteers on the education programs full-time.

RISING CRESCENDO

In the next five years, the NBSO — which will celebrate 100 years in 2015 — is planning for more growth: to start a capitalization fund; expand the subscriber base to 1,100; and possibly introduce matinees. If the group succeeds, it will be bucking a trend toward consolidation some forecast for the country’s roughly 350 professional paid orchestras.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the orchestra industry became more concentrated in the larger cities over time, because the large cities have the greater economic resources to support an orchestra and over time to cover the kind of deficits that they will keep generating,” said Robert Flanagan, an emeritus professor of economics at Stanford and the author of “The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras.”

Both “the Davids” attribute NBSO success so far to careful planning. For Prentiss, this means balancing the orchestra’s growth with its budget, which was hurt by a difficult fundraising year in 2012, he said.

“This past year has been challenging,” he said. “I don’t want to give the public the impression that financially we’re on easy street.”

For MacKenzie, it means paying players well — salaries for the orchestras roughly 70 members came to a total of more than $230,000 on its most recent available tax form — and developing five-year musical programs filled with pieces that hone core orchestral skills while pushing the group artistically.

Prentiss and MacKenzie said, in the end, NBSO’s success will be measured by its support and impact in the community.

“One of the things that I have had as a vision for this orchestra is thhat it become a model for the way orchestras need to work in the 21st century,” MacKenzie said. “For so long, orchestras have sat in their halls … It’s been an institution that is kind of static. This organization has become very dynamic.”


Our View: NBSO’s work makes SouthCoast smarter, richer, better

Standard-Times Editorial, November 02, 2012

Music has charms, no doubt, to do more than soothe a savage breast.

In New Bedford and SouthCoast, through the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, it has charms to boost tourism, fuel a downtown renaissance and enrich the lives of the region’s children.

Among the many charms of the NBSO is its attitude during a challenging economy. Where many smaller orchestras are fighting for existence, in some cases unsuccessfully, our local orchestra faces its budget realistically, but aggressively.

President and CEO David Prentiss notes that attendance at the first two concerts in this fiscal year was not only good, it was better than expected. With an annual budget of about $500,000 supported by fundraising, foundation grants, sponsorships and ticket sales, the orchestra accomplished a great deal in the community last year, although it ran a $70,000 deficit.

Nevertheless, the NBSO’s four-year strategic plan for “Building a Community of Music in the South Coast” will strengthen both its finances and the cultural fabric of the region.

The plan proposes a greater presence at monthly AHA! Nights downtown, working with restaurants to explore the relationship between food and music, expanding work with students, and exposing more people to classical music.

This is in addition to the numerous outreach and cultural functions already part of the program, which, as its website notes, has increased its budget tenfold, doubled its number of annual concerts and increased the number of school children it serves from 2,000 to 30,000 per year.

The orchestra’s focus on children—about 40 percent of its budget goes to education and youth programs—not only creates a new generation of classical connoisseurs, but it makes better students.

The NBSO is in many SouthCoast schools, but the free work it does in New Bedford’s schools should be a source of pride for everyone involved.

Terry Wolkowicz, NBSO education coordinator, is a New England Conservatory of Music grad who studied “learning through music” there. She is a full-time volunteer whose hard work at integrating music and academics is being used as a model by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.

From Music in the Mornings, which reaches 18,000 SouthCoast students every day, to student master classes and other youth programs, the NBSO is making a strong contribution of its own to improved attendance and literacy—a recognized result of music education—thanks to its work in the schools.

Even though the enrichment offered by music is recognized nearly universally, such cultural features are frequently the first to go when the economy gets tough. But New Bedford’s downtown shows once again how strong and important the arts community is to the whole region.

Opportunities to contribute to the NBSO include service on the board of trustees or chairman’s advisory council and other volunteer positions, as well as patronage and sponsorship.

We are grateful for the support the NBSO receives from SouthCoast, just as we are grateful for the enrichment it delivers to all of us.

We urge your support of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra to ensure its continued contribution to SouthCoast and all its residents.


NBSO steps on the classical gas

By Steve Urbon | Standard-Times, November 01, 2012

NEW BEDFORD—The New Bedford Symphony Orchestra is ramping up its efforts to promote classical music to people who don’t listen to it now and might really enjoy it—such as children.

The goal is one of many in a just-completed strategic plan for the next four years titled “Building a Community of Music in the South Coast.”

David Prentiss, president and CEO of the NBSO, said “we’re exploring a larger presence at AHA! Nights. We’re developing a concert experience that fits the spirit of AHA! more than the traditional symphony concert.

“We’re working with businesses and restaurants to combine musical and culinary experiences.”

That will likely mean themed events, spotlighting Italian or Portuguese music and food, Prentiss said. “Music is very much tied to different countries, and so is food.”

He said he has discovered that the Portuguese contribution to classical music is quite extensive, so that will become an emphasis. As for children’s programming, Prentiss said Education Coordinator and Conductor David McKenzie has put together new programs that “put a lot of humor and more educational content” into the performances.

Classical music’s isolation is largely of its own making, Prentiss said, noting the message has been: “This is what we do and those who like it can come on in. Those who don’t, well …”

“We want to give people the opportunity to define their own relationship to classical music,” he said, adding that they “can enjoy it in a lot of ways. … Maybe in the car, or with a glass of wine at the end of the day.”

In a statement on its website, NBSO said 14 years of strategic planning has transformed the orchestra.

“The NBSO’s budget has grown by a multiple of 10, the number of concerts presented has more than doubled, and educational programs have gone from serving 2,000 children annually to 30,000.”


Music Education is Education

By David M. Prentiss | Standard-Times, July 9, 2011

If I told you that I knew a way to improve the reading and math skills of children, keep them from dropping out of school, and make them more likely to go to college—and that my method was really fun too, would you be interested to learn more about it?

Or, if you didn’t want to take my word for it, how about listening to Rafe Esquith, an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles whose students all come from homes where English is not the primary language spoken in the household. Rafe has been recognized as one of the most dynamic, inspiring and effective teachers in the United States. He has received more teaching awards than you can shake a stick at.

In his book, “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire”, this is what Rafe has to say about educating kids:

“When I was young and stupid, I entered my first classroom brimming with confidence and convinced that I could change the world. I was more than a bit annoyed to learn that my young students had interests outside the walls of Room 56. There was an orchestra in our school, and the kids eagerly signed up to play…. I grudgingly allowed the kids to attend these music classes, while I mentally planned elaborate makeup sessions for the lost three hours…. [but then] I was shocked week after week: The kids in orchestra and chorus not only kept up with their colleagues, they did the best work in class. How was it possible? I soon learned a basic truth about the arts: Students involved in arts education are learning about things far beyond the art they study. When a child goes off to play in an orchestra, he is not only learning to play the violin or clarinet, he is also learning about discipline, responsibility, teamwork, sacrifice, practice, correcting mistakes, listening and time management. That’s not a bad set of skills for a kid to have in his pocket. And to learn them and have fun at the same time is a pretty neat trick.”
~Rafe Esquith

Or, if you want cold hard facts about educating kids, you can consult the many studies that have been done over the last 20 years that show the impact of music programs on learning in other subjects. For example,

  • First graders who received instruction in music listening had significantly higher reading scores than those first graders who did not receive the instruction but were similar in age and socioeconomic status.
  • Young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive musical training.
  • Music programs help students who are under-achieving. Students lagging behind in scholastic performance caught up to their fellow students in reading and surpassed their classmates in math by 22% when given music instruction over seven months.
  • Schools that have music programs have higher graduation and attendance rates than do those without programs.

The city of New Bedford has a long and rich tradition of understanding the importance of music programs in the schools. New Bedford Public School teacher Clarence Arey caused quite a stir at the Massachusetts Public School Superintendent conference when the New Bedford High School Orchestra performed for a state-wide audience (this was sometime after his appointment as school district music supervisor—in 1913). Inspired by the quality of the performance, superintendents across the state returned to their communities and insisted that their districts form school orchestras. Clarence Arey, by the way, founded the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra in 1915.

Today, the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra is as committed as ever to music education. Our music education programs serve over 28,000 children annually. In New Bedford, Fall River and other communities throughout the South Coast, 18,000 children in grades 1–5 begin every day of the school year listening to classical music through our Music in the Morning program. More than 7,000 children participate in our SchoolsMusic! program, where a trio of NBSO musicians perform an interactive concert at schools that integrates music with subjects such as reading and math.

Our Young People’s Concerts bring over 2,000 children to the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center to hear a live performance of the NBSO, and Be Our Musical Guest (visits to local schools by NBSO guest artists) introduces South Coast children to some of the most accomplished and talented musicians in the world today. In addition, the New Bedford Symphony Youth Orchestra recently performed a world-premiere of a symphony written by a local Portuguese composer. Our Master Class program provides local students the opportunity to study with NBSO visiting guest artists. The NBSO’s Catholic School String Program just finished its first year which included teaching string instruments to over 50 students. And our newest educational program is Symphony Tales, a program for beginner readers that uses music to reinforce fundamental literacy skills. Look for Symphony Tales soon at a bookstore, library or school near you.

An all too common refrain heard during school budget hearings and education debates is “Well, music programs are nice, but we really need to focus on teaching kids stuff.” This view shouldn’t surprise us. Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle asked this fundamental question when discussing education in his treatise on politics, “The first question is whether music is or is not to be a part of education.” He answered that music was a critical part of education, but he acknowledged that people often failed to realize this because the fun and beauty of music actually made it harder to see the real educational benefits of it. I think today many people make the same mistake.

But not everybody. The New Bedford Symphony Orchestra is very fortunate to have just received a $150,000 Challenge Gift to strengthen our educational programs and concert series. If we raise $75,000 in July, we will receive a 2 to 1 matching gift of $150,000. NBSO supporters throughout the South Coast are helping us reach this goal because they know the important truth that music education is education. As a community we must not forget, or be confused about, something this critical to achieving our fundamental duty to educate our children.

So, if you want to change a child’s life, bring music into it. If you want to improve the life of your community, support music programs in our schools. It’s that simple.

Dave Prentiss is the President and CEO of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra.