The Rhode Island Philharmonic Community Orchestra Strikes a Chord
It’s about to begin. The players get into position in their uniforms, looking pristine and ambitious. Small beads of sweat emanate from the palms of their hands as they carefully go through the plays that their coach last instilled in them. The crowd sits in a moment of silence and waits for the beautiful mayhem to unfold. And when they get the go-ahead, they play their hearts out. No, we’re not talking about the Paw Sox, but the members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Community Orchestra (RIPCO).
Meet the coach – or as he is more commonly known, the Music Director, John Eells, who began the orchestra in 2005 as an extension of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School. The orchestra features about 50 adults who are experienced musicians and interested in playing professional symphony pieces, but not as their full-time career.
“It’s like a pro sports team. You always have those players who are hoping to play and don’t necessarily get to play in the pros,” says Eells, 41. “The Patriots play for huge money, but there are some people who are just as good who might play on a local league. That’s what we do – play for the love of the music.”
The orchestra is made up of doctors, lawyers, teachers and others who are highly trained and dedicate themselves to rehearsing every Monday night from the months of September to June. Unlike the Rhode Island Philharmonic orchestra, the players in the community ensemble do it without pay.
East Sider Ronald Markoff, 63, a real estate lawyer at his own firm, has been playing trumpet with RIPCO since it began. If he was playing on a football field, he would be the quarterback. “Nobody is paid; you volunteer and it’s really doing it for the love of music. I am very impressed by the repertoire and I know it very well. I mean, I was raised on classical music, so I know all of the major composers, I know all the major literature that’s written for orchestral trumpet,” says Markoff. “The pieces we play are the highest quality from a difficulty point of view. We play the real McCoy, so to speak.”
Markoff has been playing the trumpet since he was eight years old, when his clarinet-playing older brother convinced him to switch from clarinet to trumpet, so they could do duets together. The self-taught musician studied at Brown University where he played in their orchestra and then moved on to ensembles in Boston like the Newton Symphony, the Brockton Symphony and the Civic orchestra of Boston, while he worked to receive his law degree from Boston College School of law.
“I came back here and really there were very few outlets. I went back to Brown and I played occasionally with the wind ensemble, but basically it was a hiatus from 1975 to 2005: 30 years when I really didn’t play in any groups. Then this came along and it was an excuse for me to get my lips back in shape.”
During that hiatus, Markoff did have one spectacular chance to get back to his roots and pull a few strings to play with the World Doctors’ Orchestra, right next to his older brother, who is now an ophthalmolgist.
“It’s funny about doctors. For some reason, music and doctorship go together. There’s some correlation, what it is I don’t know, but usually doctors who play musical instruments play very well. It’s a fact of life.”
Markoff could have very well been talking about his teammate, Amy Goldstein, a former genetic counselor at the women & Infants Hospital, who plays the flute and piccolo. like Markoff, Goldstein has been dedicated to the orchestra since the very first rehearsal. She played in the Brown University orchestra as well until she completed her undergraduate degree in biology. For Goldstein, 57, the orchestra is a family affair.
“For at least 10 years before RIPCO was started, I had been clamoring for an adult orchestra at the Music School. I remember discussing it with former Music School director, Kathy Czerny, around the time my daughter was 4 years old, and a new Suzuki violin student. She is almost 20 now,” reflects Goldstein. “I jumped at the chance to join as soon as a conductor was found. My husband, Bruce, is a violinist and also enjoys playing in RIPCO,” she says.
Since Goldstein stopped working at the hospital, she has focused on volunteering: she’s president of the Aurea ensemble, a board member for the Rhode Island Philharmonic orchestra, a classroom aide at a preschool in north Smithfield and still keeps her love for “doctorship” as a board member for the Miriam Hospital Women’s Association.
This season – October 2011 to June 2012 – four out of their six shows take place at the Lincoln School in Providence. “We like Lincoln School because we like the location on the East Side. We struck up a relationship with that school and so we like having our bigger concerts there,” says Eells. The orchestra practices at the Carter Center as well, where the music school and the administrative offices for the orchestra are located.
As most coaches and music directors do, Eells looks toward future game plans. “I am really looking forward to working on Shostakovich’s ninth Symphony, which we are performing in June. It is a fun piece, very energetic with a beautiful slow movement. I know [the players] will enjoy the challenge of playing it. I also believe our audience is going to love hearing it live even though they tend to shy away from newer music. So I’d say it is a favorite for this season as well as the most challenging,” he says. Eells also reflects on the past seven years and the changes that have occurred since. “When we started this orchestra, we felt like people really needed it. There were really talented players out there that didn’t have a place to play. Immediately things started well,” he says. “We’ve grown and refined ourselves and that is really satisfying.” It seems that for the Rhode Island Philharmonic Community Orchestra personal satisfaction is the name of the game.
The next RIPCO concert takes place at 3pm on June 3 at the Lincoln School.
Opera Providence is Singing a Merry Tune
At a practice field across town, Dr. Robert DeRobbio, 67, the president of the board of trustees for Opera Providence, is preparing the final touches for their 2012 feature presentation.
“Opera Providence is Rhode Island’s own opera company,” says Dr. DeRobbio. “We are striving to make opera accessible to everyone, to develop new audiences, to introduce children and youth to the excitement and enjoyment of stories told through music, and to provide performance opportunities to exceptional local and emerging talent.”
Opera Providence began over 20 years ago under the name Light Opera Company. They used to perform at the Mary C. Wheeler School with Brown’s Gilbert and Sullivan productions during the summers. Then the name changed to Ocean State Lyric Opera when the company introduced piano accompaniment several years later. It finally became Opera Providence during the Providence Art Renaissance period and they have been performing main stage productions – such as Don Pasquale and Madame Butterfly – ever since. The members complete at least two concerts every month of the year at locations all over the state.
Artistic Director Rene de la Garza spent his pre-season scouting out the best players for the extravagant operetta The Merry Widow. De la Garza, 60, also directs the opera program at URI. He has been acting as artistic director for a year and-a-half, but has been with Opera Providence for 12 years as a performer. He suggested The Merry Widow to Dr. DeRobbio because of its more modern dialogue feel, and the two of them have been working hard to ensure its success.
“Bob is really the ‘clock and money manager.’ He makes sure that we have the money and don’t go over budget,” says de la Garza. “My job is hiring the performers, selecting the repertoire. I rehearse them; I hire the pianist; I’ve been in charge of hiring the leading characters. It takes a good ear and eye for getting the right sized voices and personalities. You want to get the right people, because putting together an opera can be very stressful.”
Unlike RIPCO, anyone who works – either as a director, singer or orchestra member – gets paid. Well, everyone except for the members of the board, which means that board president DeRobbio does it for love. “He is really the angel of the company, if you will,” says de la Garza. “He has even contributed his own money when we have had a downfall. He and his wife do a lot for the opera.”
The collaboration of 13 principal characters and 20 chorus members will appear decked out in their most extravagant hats and puffiest skirts as they play out the drama of waltzes, love triangles and financial greed on stage.
The operetta, sung in English, stars Dianna McVey of North Providence as Hanna Glawari, a woman who finds herself an heiress to millions of dollars. As the finest men in Paris attempt to woo her to gain access to her money, she realizes that she still has feelings for her former beau, Count Danilo, played by David Kravitz. The comic relief of the show, Baron Zeta, played by Paul Soper, worries that if Hanna marries a Frenchmen then the fictional European kingdom where the operetta takes place will become bankrupt. He encourages Count Danilo to court Hanna so that the money will stay within the country, but he refuses to take part in the charade.
“Hanna is a strong, smart woman who finds a rather witty and clever way to get what she wants, and perhaps, what was hers all along,” says McVey.
As the final weeks before the show’s opening night quickly approach, the singers, orchestra members, set and costume designers, board members and all the others who work behind the scenes, come together to practice as a group to create an unforgettable experience for all audiences.
“The future is very bright for Opera Providence,” says Dr. DeRobbio. “We are financially sound, brimming with new and emerging talent from Rhode Island and the surrounding area, and have a fantastic cadre of veteran performers who welcome any opportunity to perform with Opera Providence.”
The Merry Widow shows on June 15 and 16 at the RI Center for Performing Arts in Cranston.
Are you looking for music that’s a little more rock and roll? Temple Beth-El’s Brotherhood committee is hosting “Fire & Rain: The Music of James Taylor performed by David Binder” on Saturday, June 2. Binder has been touring the states for 25 years performing the singer-songwriter-guitarist’s greatest hits like “Sweet Baby James” and “You’ve Got A Friend.” Enjoy a preshow drink at the cash bar, opening at 7pm. The show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $25 for one or $40 for two.