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Savannah Philharmonic to open fifth anniversary season with world premiere

By Linda Sickler / Savannah Morning News; featured in the DO

Read the original article here

The Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra will launch its fifth anniversary season in style.

“We’re doing an interesting concert with one of the best known pieces of classical music in the second half,” says Peter Shannon, conductor and artistic director of the Savannah Philharmonic. “The first half is almost a polar opposite — a piece that has never been played before by a symphony orchestra.”

On Sept. 21, the orchestra will present the world premiere of Irish composer John Buckley’s “Violin Concerto.” The concerto will be preceded by Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide Overture” and followed by Beethoven’s “5th Symphony,” his most famous composition.

Buckley completed his concerto in 2008. “It’s a very complex piece,” Shannon says. “I think it’s a great first one to do. It’s going to be a concert everyone wants to go to. It represents a watershed moment of the philharmonic.”

The concert is expected to sell out. “The composer himself is going to be in the audience to speak before the performance,” Shannon says. “It’s a special treat for the audience. It’s not many orchestras that have the opportunity to do a world premiere. It’s a bit of a steal that we got him first.”

The orchestra’s fifth anniversary is special on many levels.

“I think we’re on track with our growth,” Shannon says. “I knew this orchestra always had potential. It’s grown in artistic integrity. The fact we are doing the world premiere of a piece indicates that. The draw that the Savannah Philharmonic has through artistic integrity is quite a large net that we cast,” he says. “We have a group of musicians who are highly motivated to work hard and are being challenged by me and the music.”

Most of the orchestra’s concerts sell out. “We try to make sure we do the very best we can for each concert,” Shannon says.

“But we are by no means as polished and as good as we will be in the future,” he says. “This orchestra has a lot of potential to grow. The tools are all there and very sharp.

“We’ve done an incredible job up until now, but I see this orchestra getting better and better,” Shannon says. “It’s already one of the finest orchestras in the Southeast and I think we’re going to strengthen that reputation.”

An educational pre-concert talk will be presented by the Savannah Friends of Music at 6:30 p.m.

The Buckley concerto was commissioned by Irish violinist Gwendolyn Masin, who will perform the solo portion at the concert.

“I haven’t worked with Gwendolyn before, but her father, Ronald, performed my solo violin sonata many times,” Buckley says.

For Buckley, writing requires special conditions.

“I spend many hours in seclusion on every composition,” he says. “To compose music of this kind, it is necessary to search deeply within oneself, like writing a novel or a play.

“The violin concerto took longer than most works due to the scale,” Buckley says. “Apart from the soloist, there is an orchestra of almost 90 players.

“I had to compose music for them all,” he says. “Having a quiet environment is vital.”

Buckley is pleased the premiere is in Savannah.

“Peter Shannon is an outstanding conductor and showed great enthusiasm and commitment to the score when I sent it to him,” Buckley says. “The orchestra has a superb management and support team and it is a privilege to work with them,” he says.

Born in Templeglantine, Limerick, Ireland in 1951, Buckley studied flute at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. His catalogue now extends to almost 100 works, which have been performed and broadcast in more than 50 countries.

Those works cover a diverse range, from solo instruments to full orchestra. The list includes numerous commissions. Buckley is the subject of a book by Benjamin Dwyer, “Constellations: The life and music of John Buckley.”

At age 9, Buckley began to play the accordion.

“I moved to classical style while in boarding school aged about 13,” he says. “I started composing at age 19. My first professionally performed work dates from 1973 when I was 22.”

Hearing his work performed is an important part of the process, Buckley says.

“The first performance of a new composition is an exciting occasion for any composer,” he says.

“I believe that the work doesn’t really come into full existence until it has been performed for an audience. While this concerto is newly conceived and composed, it draws on the extraordinary history of the violin concerto as a genre.

“The shadows and echoes of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Dvořák, Berg, Shostakovich and Dutilleux hover in the background and sometimes float close to the surface,” Buckley says. “I have attempted to juxtapose explosive dramatic qualities and lyrical grace, but above all, I have sought to explore the wonderful expressive qualities of the violin, against a colorful web of orchestral sonority.”

Masin is the descendant of a long line of professional musicians from Central and Eastern Europe and was just five when she gave her debut performance. She has performed around the world, earning several prizes and degrees, and is a teacher and author of the award-winning book, “Michaela’s Music House: The Magic of the Violin.”

Masin said she feels lucky to have grown up in such a family.

“To this day, I regularly ask my parents for their advice in matters big and small, be that concerning career decisions, or the finest nuances of a particular color of vibrato,” she says.

At the age of 3, Masin began playing piano, then at 5, started playing violin.

“Within my first year of studies, I gave my debut and realized that, for me, live performance is something that cannot be equaled,” she says.

“I love to play for my audiences and feel that on stage, there is a certain sense of intimacy and exchange. Once one has experienced public performance as a soloist, and the flow of energy between audience and musician, the elation it gives to body and mind is incomparable to any other state of being.”

Buckley’s violin concerto came about in a series of events.

“John Buckley is possibly Ireland’s most renowned composer,” Masin says. “His works have been on the syllabus for exams in music institutes throughout the country, as well as part of the national high school music curriculum.

“John followed my development as a musician throughout my teenage years, regularly coming to my performances, and approached me to write his first violin concerto for me,” she says. “Incidentally, around the same time, I performed Maurice Ravel’s ‘Tzigane’ with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Shannon. It’s a beautiful full circle we’ve come.”

Buckley suggested that he compose the work modeled around Masin’s way of playing.

The Arts Council of Ireland was interested in providing the financial support needed and thus the concerto was created.

Masin has premiered several works by composers.

“I have been committed to the performance of new music since an early age,” she says.

“My parents are certainly a big influence in this way, both of them having premiered numerous works in their lives, as well. My mother is of Hungarian descent and was in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of the past century. Those stories and anecdotes have proved to be very inspiring.”

In addition to performing, Masin enjoys teaching. “It balances out my concert life and allows for a unique kind of interaction,” she says.

“My main objective when I teach is for students to gain independence. I believe that students should be taught the necessary skills to make informed decisions on their own, regardless of age.

“It is extremely rewarding when my students ask me questions for which I have to search for an answer,” Masin says. “It shows their interest in exploring the material more deeply.

“Together, we build a foundation on to which they can project and develop their own ideas. I relish the challenge of teaching, which I believe to be a vocation, and learn from my students.”

This will be Masin’s first time in Savannah.

“I feel privileged to be part of a thriving contemporary classical music scene where taking a risk is being rewarded with a sold-out concert hall,” she says.

“It is thanks to Peter Shannon’s belief in John’s work and my playing, and that of the Savannah Philharmonic, that this work can be heard.

“Moreover, it is thanks to the relentless quality that Peter and the orchestra deliver that its audiences stay loyal and are coming to this performance. I’m so much looking forward to playing in Savannah.”

“I’ve wanted to visit the South for a long time,” Masin says. “It’s my first time in Georgia and I’ve been made to feel so welcome before even setting foot there, I think it will be like a homecoming.”

IF YOU GO

What: Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21

Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

Cost: $16-$60

Info: 912-525-5050, www.savannahphilharmonic.org