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Green Music Center concert raises funds for Santa Rosa youth orchestra’s European tour

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, June 14, 2018

When 70-some students from the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra take off for Europe on Tuesday, they will be accompanied by several professionals who have written works for them to premiere on their 10-day tour, including Trumpet Principal Doug Morton of the Santa Rosa Symphony and guitarist Jason Eckl of Dirty Cello.
The young adults will also have the honor of meeting American composer Gloria Coates, who lives in Germany and wrote a special piece for the ensemble after learning about how their community came together to help each other after the wildfires last October.
 
“I was already working on a concept for the piece when the fire disaster struck,” Coates explained in an e-mail. “I decided to create a positive music by taking a simple five-tone scale and transforming it into a new sound complex of many scales and microtones. This echoes ... the people joining together and creating a new and vibrant community.”
 
Behind the young musicians — ranging from ages 10 to 23 — stand a raft of supportive parents, who spent countless hours driving them to lessons and rehearsals, supplying food for Sunday night practices, volunteering for concerts and working with the Santa Rosa Symphony League to help create “A Night in Vienna,” the major fund-raiser for the tour.
 
Some of those parents will be going along as chaperones while others — too excited to stay home while their kids go to Europe — have planned itineraries that follow the students as they perform in historic halls from Salzburg and Vienna to Budapest. These shadow parents, however, are only allowed to attend concerts. Otherwise, the kids will be operating independently.
 
“I’m excited for them to have their own experience,” said Julie Forrest of Windsor, who will follow her two children — bass player Isaac, 16, and violinist Pippa, 13. “They will feel confident and independent, and I’m so excited for them. It’s so magical to feel that way, like you’re experiencing another world for the very first time.”
 
To launch the 10-day tour, the youth orchestra under Conductor Richard Loheyde will give a Bon Voyage concert at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall showcasing the repertoire they will perform in Europe. Loheyde’s programming goal was to create a strong connection between the music and the composers of the various cities they are going to visit.
 
“In Vienna you have to play Strauss, so we’re doing the ‘Thunder and Lightning Polka,” Loheyde said. “And we also have to do Brahms as well, so that’s why we programmed the Academic Festival Overture ... and Lizst is closely associated with Hungary and Budapest in particular, so we’re doing his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” “I’m super excited about the Lizst, and probably my favorite piece is the Academic Festival Overture,” said Isaac Forrest. “It’s so fun to play. It’s a big German college drinking song.”
 
As a nod to Mozart, who was born in Salzburg, Morton wrote a piece for the youth orchestra based on the composer’s timeless “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” melody and will join the tour as well. His work, “Variations on a French Folk Song,” is an homage to Beethoven, Mozart and American composers Copland and Gershwin.
 
Also joining the tour will be Dirty Cello, a blues and bluegrass band led by Santa Rosa Symphony cellist Rebecca Roudman. The band has collaborated with the youth orchestra before — they performed a Blues Concerto together in November — and the band’s guitarist, Jason Eckl, wrote a Klezmer Heritage Concerto for the tour featuring the cello as the lead instrument.
 
“It is based on the Eastern European Jewish heritage that he and I share,” Roudman said in an e-mail. “It weaves the traditional sound of Klezmer music with the classical orchestra sound.” Coates, who is an internationally recognized composer, finished writing “Stardust and Dark Matter” about a month ago. The challenging, contemporary work includes a mosaic of interesting sounds and sound effects.
 
“There’s a basic, pentatonic scale that gets passed around to different voices in the orchestra,” Loheyde said. “Just when the audience gets the hang of it, there are these other elements that come in ... these glissandos and microtones and special effects like snap pizzicato.”
 
Bassoonist Chloe Watson, who won the orchestra’s Concerto Competition, will be featured at the Bon Voyage concert performing Hector Villa-Lobos’ “Cinrada das sete notas” (Serenade of seven notes) but will not go on tour.
 
Rounding out the eclectic program will be Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and 2.
 
“Peer Gynt is so fun to play and listen to,” said Pippin Forrest, who is the second youngest to go on the tour. “Candide is fun, but it’s fast and a little bit abrasive to the ear, especially when you sit next to the cymbal player.”
 
One of the highlights of the tour. Loheyde said, will be a workshop for the students with Principal Second Violinist Christoph Koncz of the Vienna Philharmonic. The musicians are also looking forward to performing side-by-side with another ensemble, the Musikveirein Rabenstein, which is connected to a music school in Vienna.
 
“That will be fun to meet kids that play our instruments,” said Principal Oboeist Chiara Rackerby, 17. “I feel like we’re going to make a lot of awesome friends.”
 
Her father, Tom Rackerby of Healdsburg, has never been to Europe before but has signed on as a chaperone so he can keep an eye on his daughter along with his own group of kids.
 
“I’m one of those over-protective dads — you’ve heard of helicopter parents. I’m the drone parent,” he quipped. “It’s going to be neat to have these kids go to Vienna and see how people are immersed in the music.”
 
Christina Freenor of Cloverdale is also excited for her son, bass player Francis Freenor, 14, who is going on the tour. She plans to follow the tour and attend all the concerts with her husband and sister-in-law.
 
“To be honest, I think it’s better for him, as an only child, to be able to explore without us,” she said. “I just couldn’t stay here. There’s no way I could try to relive the concerts through his explanations.”
 
While the Forrest family has been scrimping and saving in order support the kids’ music and the tour, they feel the sacrifice is more than worth it.
 
“I’m a teacher, so I will say that music, especially classical music, supports your learning in ways you don’t get anywhere else,” Julie Forrest said. “It’s a way of life ... it’s part of the way they see the world now.”
 
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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