I Phil good
The Reno Philharmonic tunes up for its new season
“Colorful,” “dynamic” and “innovative” are words that have been used to describe Laura Jackson, the music director and conductor of the Reno Philharmonic. Now in her second season as music director, the same could be said of the events she and the Phil’s more than 60 musicians have lined up for Reno.
“I often think of putting concerts together as making a great meal,” says Jackson. “There are usually lots of contrasting things within the meal as you go from appetizer to dessert, but yet there’s some linkage tying it all together. So when I look at the overall season, each of the concerts within themselves have themes and threads of continuity within them.”
Jackson says the eclectic calendar has “something for everyone … some new and some old.” While there was no overriding theme planned for the season, one of “remarkable firsts” seems to have emerged on its own, which gets us closer to Jackson’s goal of telling the story of the Reno Philharmonic, “our best-kept secret,” to the rest of the country.
The high notes
Coming soon is the show that is, for many people, an annual tradition: Spirit of the Season, Dec. 4 and 5. This year’s event will feature soprano Lisa Vronan.
“She’s a fabulous singer, a huge Broadway star and opera singer, so she’s a true crossover artist who can step in and out of popular and classic styles seamlessly,” says Jackson.
Following that come Master Classics Series appearances by pianist Terrence Wilson, percussion duo PercaDu and the Reno Philharmonic Chorus, covering a range of classical works from such artists as Arvo Pärt, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky and the score from the 1938 film Alexander Nevsky.
But classics aren’t the only thing on the menu. For lovers of pop music, the Reno Philharmonic presents its tribute to The Rat Pack—Sammy, Frank and Dean—in February.
Dr. Ruth Lenz is the new concertmaster, the role held previously by Phillip Ruder until his retirement in 2007. Her selection was somewhat poetic, having been a former student of Ruder’s. Lenz has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno’s music program and a doctoral degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana. She is also a violinist with Colorado’s Telluride Chamber Music Festival, Florida’s La Musica Festival, Germany’s Barth Chamber Music Festival, and the Nevada Chamber Music Festival.
She began playing violin at age 2 at the knee of her mother, violinist Paula Lenz. Not surprising in Nevada’s first family of music—her father, John, is the Reno Philharmonic’s principal French horn; her uncle Peter and brother John both play cello; her uncle Scott Faulkner is principal bass; her uncle Paul plays principal trumpet; and her husband, Andy Williams, is second trombone. Even her 3-year-old daughter “squeaks on the violin a bit.”
As concertmaster, Lenz is in charge of the strings section. “One of the big things to decide is the direction the bows will move, because they all have to be synchronized to go in the same direction.” Her job begins in earnest two to three weeks before a concert, marking bow movements, tuning the orchestra, setting the pace and interpreting the conductor’s movements to lead the strings.
Lenz, like Jackson, is also excited to be shaking things up a bit musically.
“In our concert in spring, we’ll do Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring,’ which actually caused a riot when it first premiered in Paris,” says Lenz. “It was so progressive and almost ugly in places—it’s about a primitive dance in which they sacrifice a maiden, and she dances herself to death. It caused such a strong, emotional reaction that it caused a riot. So it’s exciting to perform something like that.”
Return of the native
One of the season’s most exciting additions is the Composer-in-Residence program, created by Laura Jackson to honor acclaimed composer Sean Shepherd, one of Reno’s native sons, as well as to celebrate the community and landscape, and add composing to its roster of educational programs.
Shepherd, born and raised in Reno, came from a non-musical family.
“I came to music by way of the Washoe County School District in sixth grade,” laughs Shepherd. Drawn to woodwinds—first flute, then bassoon—Shepherd was immediately hooked, and music quickly became his primary extracurricular activity. He came up through the local ranks: school bands, the Reno Philharmonic’s youth orchestras and private lessons. His postsecondary training took place at Indiana University, where he earned the Dean’s Award, and Julliard, where he graduated in 2004 and received the Palmer Dixon Prize for Outstanding Composition. He currently resides in Brooklyn, N.Y.
As composer in residence, Shepherd will return to Reno in March to share his experiences, passion and advice with students in schools, as part of the Phil’s education programs, and he will work with students on their own compositions during after-school workshops and master classes. This culminates in a performance of one of two original compositions he will write specifically for the Reno Philharmonic. (The second composition will be performed in October 2011.)
“I feel this kind of fascinating nostalgia for this life I had in Reno, where I lived and breathed music everyday because I loved it, before it was ever my job. I just have such good memories about Reno.”
As for how to convey all he knows and feels about this place into an original composition by December, when he needs to hand it over to musicians, he’s still not quite sure. “I could write a piece about the Truckee River, and it may or may not sound like a river to you. So trying to see the mountains or whatever in the music will be hard,” he explains. “I need to give people what they want, and think about what I’ve taken from Reno, and what the desert is to me. Those are the questions I’m grappling with … I think there’s a universal quality that all great music has, and that’s what I’m aiming for.”
Education programs have long been a mainstay of the Philharmonic, with its Celebrate Strings program of free after-school violin lessons and Discover Music, in which an ensemble of two to five musicians travels to schools throughout WCSD performing interactive, child-friendly music programs. Twelve Young People’s Concerts are presented for students in third through fifth grades. And the Reno Philharmonic Youth Orchestras offer opportunities to kids ages 12-18 to play in one of three full orchestras comprised of woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings. They include the Youth Strings Symphonia (YSS), the strings-only ensemble for fourth through eighth graders; the preparatory Youth Concert Orchestra (YCO); and the more advanced Youth Symphony Orchestra (YSO).
The YSO will be one of only four other youth orchestras to be featured at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the most acoustically sophisticated performance halls in the world, during the Los Angeles Orchestra Festival in June 2011.
Of the season as a whole, Jackson says, “I’ve been having a ball … I think we’ve brought a lot of fresh things to the audience this year, and I’ve been thrilled by the amount of support and energy there are for the arts in this region. It’s very energizing to even be a cog in that wheel.”