Articles from the

The News-Times

selected from 2004 – 2010

Price is leaving on a high note

Danbury Concert Chorus gives debut performance of 'Walden' Nov. 14

Music to our ears: Concert to Benefit Danbury Music Centre

Dress up for space-themed concert Saturday

New opera takes symphony on exploration

Hartford composer brings music to Danbury

Capturing Ives' vibes

Student pianist a virtuoso performer

Suite drama

Charles Ives was uniquely American

Ives Day Trail Dedication

Event gives fans glimpse of composer's life

A melodic world premiere in Danbury

Music Centre's 'Messiah'

Orchestra conductor makes Danbury debut

Memorable Ives Concert

Nutcracker Auditions

Prelude to a classic

Young and old try out for this season's 'Nutcracker'

By Nanci G. Hutson
THE NEWS-TIMES   (from Sep. 25, 2004)
Photography by Wendy Carlson
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DANBURY – They giggled, they twirled, they primped, they bit their fingernails.

From the littlest dancers to the man and woman cast as grandparents, the 200 or more children and adults who auditioned last weekend for the 37th annual Danbury Music Centre production of "The Nutcracker" were delighted to have a chance at performing in what has become a community holiday tradition.

On Sept. 17 and 18, Executive Director Nancy Sudik said got such a kick out of watching the repeat performers and brand new performers "scared to death'' take to the stage and begin to find their place in the classic ballet that will be seen by thousands during the Christmas season.

Artistic director and choreographer Arthur Frederic, working with his wife, Lisa Denton, has a gentle, kind manner that builds confidence in children and adults alike, Sudik said.

"He had as much fun with the children as they did with him,'' Sudik said of the audition process.

The auditions are open to those 7 and older, from throughout the Danbury area who range from experienced ballet dancers to those with no dance experience. The auditions help the directors select the lead roles, but as this performance has a need for such a large cast, there is great effort to ensure everyone willing to commit to the production, even children with disabilities, gets some role. Indeed, there are whole families who perform.

"This is what makes this such a special treat for everybody," Sudik said. "It's a real family event."

"The Nutcracker is also a testament to the center's educational mission."

"The idea is to give everybody in the community who wants a chance to be on stage an opportunity to perform, and perform in a well-organized, well-produced event; young and old alike, singers, musicians, and dancers. It's a dynamite mission," Frederic said.

Frederic and his wife said they are always awed with what transpires over the course of the rigorous, but fun, rehearsals that lead to the final performances scheduled this year for Dec. 10-12 at Danbury High School.

"The results on stage are high-enthusiasm, high-energy," Frederic said of the famous Tchaikovsky production. "Ours is never ordinary. The excitement is just uncontainable.

"This is our eighth year, and it always feels like the first year," Frederic said. "It never gets old."

For those who wish to participate but are not dancers, there is also a Snowflake Chorus composed of children between third grade and 12th grades, and the auditions for that are scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 21 at the Danbury Music Centre on Main Street.

The final musical highlight of the production is the accompaniment of The Danbury Symphony Orchestra with conductor Richard Price.

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"I play in the orchestra and for many of us, this makes our holiday," Sudik said. "If I didn't do this every year, my holiday wouldn't be complete. To give this community this music is very exciting to us."



Danbury to celebrate life of Charles Ives

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By Robert Miller
THE NEWS-TIMES   (from Oct. 15, 2004)

Composer Charles Ives and his wife, Harmony Twitchell, at their home in West Redding. Ives' life will be celebrated Sunday in Danbury.

Think of the music you hear daily, whether pop tunes, church music, folk songs, jazz, classical. Think of the places you see - the countryside, the city streets.

For almost everyone, all this is part of the passing scene, the stuff that flows by without leaving any grand impression. For Charles Ives, that flow was the constant spring of inspiration.

"It was right here, in Danbury, right here on Main Street," said Nancy Sudik, executive director of the Danbury Music Centre.

Ives - who was born 130 years ago on Oct. 20, and who died 50 years ago this past May - was the first great American composer of classical music. He mixed turn-of-the past-century marches, ragtime tunes, hymns, Civil War songs, parlor tunes - "borrowings" - with what could be a wild experimentation in tonality and meter.

"His technique was modernist, but his sensibility was Romantic," said Peter Burkholder, president of the Charles Ives Society.

"He used those borrowings to localize his music, to stamp on this that it was made in America," said Denise Von Glahn, a professor of music at Florida State University and author of "The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape." "He wants to champion being American, not in a jingoistic sense, out of love of American music."

On Sunday, there will be an all-day celebration of Ives in Danbury, including lectures, tours of his birthplace on Mountainville Road, and a performance of his monumental "Concord" Sonata by pianist Timothy Andres.

There will also be a tribute to the Fairfield County landscape Ives loved. The city will dedicate the first section of what will be the 14-mile Ives Trail, a greenway and hiking trail that, when completed, cross from Bethel across Danbury into Ridgefield, ending on Pine Mountain, where Ives helped build a small plank shanty.

"Pine Mountain was a very important place to Ives," Sudik said. "He'd go there in his college days to compose the way he wanted to, not the way his Yale professors thought he should."

The section of the trail Danbury officials will dedicate Sunday will run from Ives' birthplace on Mountainville Road for about a mile to the trail system at Tarrywile Park. Thanks to a $5,000 gift from the Meserve Fund, it will have trail signs that will give hikers directions and three spots to stop and read about Ives' life and work.

Bill Montgomery of the Swampfield Land Trust - which has helped plan the overall trail and has overseen the clearing of the first section - said more than two dozen volunteers helped create the first spur.

"We're delighted that the first step has been accomplished," Montgomery said.

Danbury City Planner Dennis Elpern was the first person to study the region's open space maps and realize there was a swath of undeveloped fields and forests that could be home to a trail. Naming it after Ives, he said, was a natural.

"I just thought he was Danbury's most famous native," he said. "It was the first name that came to my mind."

Like many, Elpern admits to being beguiled by Ives' life story.

Ives, born in 1874, was the son of a city musician and bandleader, George Ives, who pressed his son to never shy away from originality. Ives, who was on the Danbury High School baseball and football teams, was a skilled church organist by his teens. But after graduating from Yale University, Ives decided against making music his career. Instead, he took a job with the Mutual Life Insurance Co. He later started his own firm, Ives & Myrick, which became one of the most successful insurance companies in the country and he retired a rich man.

"He wrote a life insurance pamphlet, 'The Amount to Carry' that's still being used today," Sudik of the Danbury Music Centre said.

Splitting his time between New York City and his farm in West Redding, where he lived with his wife, Harmony Twichell, Ives had a 20-year span of inspiration from about 1896 to 1917 - that year, a heart attack led to a physical breakdown and a waning ability to compose.

During those two decades, he heard almost none of his music performed. It was considered too difficult, too different, too odd. To continue writing against such indifference and antagonism, said composer Aaron Copland, took "the courage of a lion."

It was only in the last 30 years of his life - when he lived in retirement in West Redding with Harmony - that some of the nation's leading musicians discovered and began to champion his compositions. In 1947, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Third Symphony, composed in 1904. Ever afraid of losing his independence, he gave away the $500 that went with the award.

That reputation for Ives' music being too gnarly to be enjoyed still exists today.

"If people think that, they're depriving themselves," said Burkholder of the Ives Society. "There's lots of good stuff out there."

For one thing, Burkholder said, Ives wrote in a lot of different styles - some fiercely experimental, some far more beguiling.

"There is no Ives "style," he said. "He wrote for every taste."

Ives' music often tries to evoke his early years and the world of the 19th century Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau - men who, like Ives, were Romantics in the grand sense of the word, Burkholder said.

His music is full of the New England of his youth. "Three Places in New England" is an attempt to distill the essence of Boston, Redding and the Housatonic River Valley into music.

"He chooses to name the places that inspired him," said Von Glahn of Florida State University. "He's written a number of pieces with a place in the title and with program notes that explain the connections he wants to make."

For Von Glahn - whose book "The Sounds of Place" won the 2004 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for criticism, what's also impressive about Ives is his historical accuracy. If he quotes a hymn that's supposed to suggest a time and place, that hymn is historically correct. If he writes a piece to evoke the Civil War, the marching tune is one played during the war. But rather than just quoting, she said, Ives weaves these fragments into a seamless whole of composition.

For Sudik, an unabashed admirer of Ives' music, the Ives Trail is one more way to get people interested in his life and music. If hikers stop and read about him, she said, they may take the next step and listen to him.

And the trail itself - like Ives' music - has the potential to be a timeless place for anyone who wanders onto it.

"You plant seeds and you hope they grow," Elpern said. "I think 100 years from now, people will see this trail and think 'Those guys knew what they were doing!"

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(Several other articles about Charles Ives are also reprinted on this page.)

Memorable Ives . . . . Charles Ives . . . . Capturing Ives' . . . . Event . . . .


Memorable Ives concert celebrated American talent

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By Howard Tuvelle
NEWS-TIMES MUSIC CRITIC   (from July 3, 2005)

News-Times file photo
Leonard Bernstein conducts the American Symphony Orchestra during the Charles Ives Centennial Concert on July 4, 1974, at the Danbury State Fairgrounds in front of about 10,000 people.

On July 4, the hottest day of 1974, an event took place in Danbury that the Christian Science Monitor would describe as "mysterious and wonderful — historic, too."

The event honored composer and Danbury native Charles Edward Ives in the centennial year of his birth.

It was a symphony concert of his music, conducted by the legenday Leonard Bernstein.

The chronicle of how and why it happened, and why it almost did not happen, is one I know well, since it was my brainstorm and task to spearhead the effort.

It all started early in September 1973, when Connecticut Lt. Gov. T. Clark Hull, himself a Danbury native, convened a statewide meeting in Hartford of all the schools of music, presenting organizations, and others interested in celebrating Ives' life.


Wikimedia Commons
Leonard Bernstein, right, stands beside his protege, Michael Tilson Thomas, at the Danbury concert. Thomas conducted the second half of the program.

I attended the meeting as a representative of Western Connecticut State College.

And I had an idea. Why not invite Bernstein and the American Symphony Orchestra to give an all-Ives program in an outdoor concert at the Danbury State Fairgrounds? Both Bernstein and the orchestra were champions of Ives' music. The fairgrounds, where the annual Danbury State Fair was still held, were also a part of Ives' childhood, and seemed the perfect site.

At the time, classical music in the United States was dominated by European musicians. Americans, especially composers, were given little chance. What a coup it would be if we could pull this off — American musicians in an all-American program.


A poster advertises the 1974 concert.

The proposal was immediately rejected as "too costly." Another member of the committee suggested "Bernstein would never accept as he's on a sabbatical."

The meeting fell apart with nothing decided.

But the thought of bringing Bernstein to Danbury fired my imagination. I decided to write on my own to the great conductor.

On Jan. 7, 1974, I sent him a letter.

"Dear Mr. Bernstein:

"I am writing for Danbury and its interested citizens, who feel that a tribute to Charles Ives in the birthplace so closely linked to his creativity should be a major musical event."

I mentioned the possible use of concert profits for the restoration of Ives' birth house, which at the time was sitting vacant in a lot and had recently been vandalized.

"We want a conductor," the letter continued, "who can bring the necessary vitality to the performance, who is not only musically eminent, but who could also best dramatize the importance of the tribute.

"Would you consider helping us by conducting this concert?"

I mailed the letter with trepidation. Others of great talent — Mozart in Salzburg and Freud in Vienna — had been ignored in their hometowns. Ives had been overlooked by the musical establishment in the United States.

I convinced myself I would get no reply.

About a week later my office phone rang: "This is Harry Kraut, Leonard Bernstein's manager. Bernstein read your letter and is very interested. Can you come to New York this week?"

Composer Richard Moryl and I met with Bernstein. He agreed to conduct. Moryl and I were elated, even though we did not have permission to use the fairgrounds. We were sure that with the superstar conductor in hand, securing the site would be no problem.

Bernstein's manager asked, "Have you ever put on an event of this scope?" When we replied "no," he said, "Well, get lots of sleep. You're going to need it."

We asked June Goodman, a member of the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, to help us form a committee. She quickly brought together a group of people willing to assume a variety of tasks.

Jean Dalrymple was the director of Light Opera for New York City Center and had a summer home on Brushy Hill Road. She gave a dinner party that helped bring together key local people.

A retired former New York manager, Julian Olney, was enlisted and estimated we would need $50,000. Everyone was dazed by this amount.

Meanwhile, we had to get the fairgrounds.

In 1974 the fairgrounds' grandstand and oval were used for stock car races on Saturday evenings. The fairgrounds were the property of the Leahy family, owners of a local oil company.

Although I was chairman of the committee, the members considered me a "newcomer" to the area and others with more substance were delegated to speak with the Leahys — with poor results.

Former Danbury Mayor Gino Arconti spoke directly to founder John Leahy on our behalf, but was turned down. Leahy said he had donated the fairgrounds for a past "classical" event and it hadn't gone well. Mayor Charles Ducibella, Jean Dalrymple, June Goodman and several others also tried to convince Leahy, without success.

The situation was critical, as the fairgrounds was a vital part of the proposal made to Bernstein. We simply had to get it.

The Leahy office was on White Street near the college where I worked. On Feb. 25, 1974, without notifying committee members, I took a bold chance. Loading my arms with materials on Ives, along with a hymnal and a Bible, I walked to the Leahy office. John Leahy and his wife, Gladys, were talking with manager Fred Fearn.

I asked for no more than five minutes. They agreed. I began talking about Ives' music, especially aiming my remarks at Mrs. Leahy. I related how I had loved my own grandmother's hymns and had always wanted to use them in orchestral music, but discovered that Charles Ives had already accomplished this. They seemed interested.

Then I mentioned some of the hymns: "In the Sweet Bye and Bye," and "Shall We Gather at the River," and "Beulah Land." I felt I was getting to Mrs. Leahy.

"Children in Danbury," I said, almost pleading, "deserve to hear these played by a world-famous orchestra and conductor. It's part of their local musical heritage and a part of yours, as well."

Mr. Leahy, ailing but still a commanding sort of person, said "Son, come with me. I want to show you how I built this business."

We went to a room in the back of the building, where many photo scrapbooks were stacked. We paged through each one, sometimes more than once, for at least two hours.

I listened patiently and complimented him on his business brilliance.

Finally we emerged from the back room. Addressing his wife, Fred Leahy announced, "Mother, let the boy use the fairgrounds!"

Victory!

Word of the planned event spread. New York Times critic Donald Henahan wrote:

"For now, that Danbury Fairgrounds on the Fourth of July promises to be a star-spangled event. Let's trust there will be band concerts, too, and fireworks, and potato salad, and crying babies. Even political orations about Duty, Honor, the Flag and Watergate."

Choosing July 4 for the concert was no accident: Ives said his orchestral work, "The Fourth of July," was "the best thing I ever composed."

I desperately wanted this piece played at the concert, but it would have required too many rehearsals and our budget was limited. Bernstein agreed to conduct the "Second Symphony" instead.

To make the program more representative of the state, we invited the Greenwich Choral Society to sing along with the Western Connecticut State College chorus.

We needed a baritone soloist and McHenry Boatwright, then teaching at Ohio State University, accepted.

Bernstein invited his protege, Michael Tilson Thomas, to share half the program.

Raising money was difficult at the beginning. When I contacted the grants officer of the New York insurance company Ives and a partner had started, he confused Charles Ives with Burl Ives, the folk singer, and declined to give any money.

We had trouble tracking down a shell for the orchestra and an affordable sound system.

Bernstein became annoyed because too many people were calling his office. He threatened to pull out.

The pessimists were gaining the upper hand. They constantly told me, "It'll never happen. It'll never happen."

Finally we had a breakthrough in funding. Nathan Ancell, the founder of Ethan Allen furniture, gave me a $2,000 donation and others followed his lead.

Only days before the concert, we found a sound system and 15 speakers were placed across the field. Mayor Ducibella persuaded the city of Bridgeport to loan us an orchestra shell. It seemed that all was ready.

Then the weather turned severely hot.

Early on the morning of the concert the temperature was 90 degrees. The speaker system was malfunctioning and the orchestra — rehearsing — was baking in the heat.

Bernstein's manager demanded we provide some kind of further overhead protection for the musicians. Poles were erected and black plastic was stretched to block the sun, but a gust of wind brought it down. Ducibella summoned the fire department and two fire trucks arrived with cherry pickers to support a canopy.

What else could go wrong? The day was becoming like one of Ives' own cacophonous, scratchy music scores.

By afternoon cars on Interstate 84 were bumper to bumper. Some people came early on bicycles and others hitchhiked. The early crowd explored the grounds and permanent displays of the famous Danbury State Fair.

People arrived in every sort of garb, from straw hats, suspenders and bow ties to shorts, sandals and backpacks. They came with families, folding chairs, packed foods, coolers with sodas and umbrellas to protect them from the sun.

About an hour before the downbeat, Bernstein's manager approached me.

"You've got to cancel the concert," he demanded. "The wax on the stringed instruments is melting, and they can't keep their instruments in tune. The condition is impossible and you've got to get on TV and radio at once and cancel immediately."

At that frazzled moment I suddenly decided I did not care what the outcome would be.

"Look over there on the highway at those cars," I replied, pointing to the traffic jam. "It's now out of our hands. It either goes or it fails, and there's nothing anyone can do but ride it out!"

Some 10,000 people poured into the grandstand area. Among them were Isaac Stern, Dave Brubeck, Vladimir Horowitz, Aaron Copland, Thorton Wilder, and the Ives scholar and pianist John Kirkpatrick. (Horowitz' wife wore an "Impeach Nixon" button.)

Concert time finally arrived and Bernstein strolled out in a white suit, carrying a slight paunch from his sabbatical, but projecting his well-known charisma.

He raised the baton and began the "Second Symphony," part of which had been composed on Danbury's Pine Mountain, which was visible to everyone sitting in the grandstand.

The music echoed across the whole western portion of Danbury. The air was still hot, but a little relief came as the sun went down.

Michael Tilson Thomas followed, conducting "From The Steeples And Mountains," "Three Places In New England," "The Circus Band," "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven" and "They Are There."

During the playing of the "General Putnam's Camp" segment of the "Three Places" (the Colonial Army encampment in Redding), someone shot off a flare or rocket and it soared high over the field as the American flag rippled in what little night's breeze there was.

Here was a true Ivesian moment: an American composer, an American traditional fairgrounds, an orchestra called the American Symphony led by American conductors, on a major American holiday.

The last song on the program was "They Are There," one of Ives' passionate patriotic songs combining both choruses and baritone Boatwright with the orchestra. The singers gave it all the rousing fervor that had been building up from the long summer of rehearsals. It was electrifying. The thousands of people in the audience demanded the song be repeated.

By now no one felt the heat. Something more important was happening as Ives' lyrics could be heard over the orchestra:

"Wars are made by small stupid selfish bossing groups,

While the people have no say . . .

Hearing several voices in the audience cry out "Right on!" I feared pandemonium might ensue as the final refrain echoed for miles around:

"They are there, they are there

Then the people not just politicians

Will rule their own lands and lives

Then you'll hear the whole universe

Shouting the battle cry of Freedom."

One critic later lamented that there were no political orations during the day.

But he was wrong. The entire tribute concert was an oration, and Ives' words were a fitting finale.

Howard Tuvelle and his committee raised $57,000 from the concert. Tickets were $7.50, $5, and $3, and brought in about $15,000. The rest came from grants and contributions.

After the concert, the group gave $10,000 to the Scott-Fanton Museum to refurbish the Ives homestead. Another $5,000 went to a fund for what would become the Ives Center on the Westside campus of Western Connecticut State University.

The American Symphony was paid $20,000. Leonard Bernstein earned $10,000.

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(Several other articles about Charles Ives are also reprinted on this page.)

Ives Day . . . . Charles Ives . . . . Capturing Ives' . . . . Event . . . .


Charles Ives was uniquely American

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By Nancy Sudik   (from Oct. 8, 2005)

Charles Edward Ives, Danbury born and raised maverick composer, cared little for the musical styles and fashions of his day. He cared even less for music critics. He was fond of saying that pretty music was for pretty ears, and he had no regrets that his music was not considered "pretty." Not until 1939, 20 years after he stopped composing, did the American public become aware of his music. Acceptance came much later.

Celebrate Charles Ives

The annual Charles Ives Day birthday celebration will
take place Oct. 16 with events in Danbury and Bethel.
Highlights of the day
  • 9:30 a.m.: A hike up Pine Mountain (Meet at the
    top of Pine Mountain Road in Danbury by 9:30 a.m.)
  • Noon: A visit to the Charles Ives birthplace on
    Mountainville Avenue in Danbury. On display will be
    projects created by the students at Great Plain Elementary School.  (Meet at the home.)
  • 1:30 p.m.: A visit to his grave site in Wooster Cemetery, section M. (Meet at the grave site.)
  • 3 p.m.: A performance of the Danbury Brass Band, under the direction of Alan Raph in the Bethel Gazebo in front of the Bethel Town Hall on School Street (Meet behind the library on the lawn of Bethel Town Hall.)
    Hosts for the day
    Nancy F. Sudik, Executive Director of the Danbury Music Centre
    Larry Deming, Concertmaster of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra
  • Charles Ives' first and most influential teacher was his father, George, a Civil War band leader, who introduced him to the concepts of polytonality and multiple meters. Young Charles grew up listening to his father's bands marching up and down Danbury's Main Street and was greatly influenced by his father's frequent musical experiments.

    One popular anecdote recounts the occasion when several of George's bands marched to Elmwood Park from different directions, simultaneously playing marches in different meters and keys. Another tells of George's experiments with quarter tones, which were inspired by the out-of-tune church bells of the First Congregational Church next to his home.

    George Ives' musical innovation and the sights and sounds of the Danbury area had a powerful impact on young Charles and contributed to his unconventional approach to music writing.

    Charles Ives began composing at a young age. In 1888, he played his composition "Slow March" at the funeral for Chin-Chin, his cat. Some people say Chin-Chin was a dog!

    Charles was fond of using fragments of music familiar to Danburians. Patriotic music, hymns and marches figured prominently in his compositions. He combined fragments of this conventional music with the unconventional compositional techniques he learned from his father. The result was uniquely American and uniquely Charles Ives.

    Nancy Sudik is the Executive Director of the Danbury Music Centre.

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    (Several other articles about Charles Ives are also reprinted on this page.)

    Ives Day . . . . Memorable Ives . . . . Capturing Ives' . . . . Event . . . .


    Orchestra conductor makes Danbury debut

    By John Pirro
    THE NEWS-TIMES   (from Nov 06, 2006 )
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    Photography by

    Ari conducts the DSO
    Danbury Symphony Orchestra conductor Ariel Rudiakov leads the orchestra during his debut performance Sunday at Ives Concert Hall in Danbury.
    DANBURY -- Selecting a new conductor for the Danbury Symphony Orchestra took more than two years and required a search committee to consider more than 100 applicants.

    But based on the response from those who attended Sunday's debut performance, the choice of Ariel Rudiakov was a clear hit.

    "I thought he was terrific, and the soloists were wonderful, too," said Anne Niland of Danbury.

    "It was a terrific performance," said Albert Kokalari of Ridgefield. "He seems to have a lot of gusto in his movements."

    Rudiakov has served on the faculties of Bennington, Middlebury and Green Mountain colleges, and was appointed artistic director of the Manchester (Vermont) Music Festival in 2001, succeeding his late father, Michael, a cellist, who provided his early musical training.

    He has held guest and permanent conducting posts with the Metropolitan Symphony, the Adelphi Chamber Orchestra and the Bergen Philharmonic. Today, he is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College Division, and the Michael Rudiakov Music Academy. He has been the conductor of the Manchester Chamber Orchestra since 1989.

    His selection as musical director and conductor of the Danbury Symphony capped a lengthy search, said Eric Gottschalk, president of the board of directors of the Danbury Music Centre and head of the search committee.

    The committee reviewed over 100 applications, from as far away as Peru, and eventually invited the seven finalists to perform in concert with the symphony, which is composed of professional and amateur musicians from the Danbury area.

    The committee chose Rudiakov after consultation with symphony members.

    Sunday's concert began with a rousing performance of the "Star-Spangled Banner," after which the conductor reminded the audience to vote on Tuesday. He then led the orchestra through Beethoven's Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello, with guest artists Joanna Genova Rudiakov, his wife, on violin, David Calhoun on cello and Nelson Padgett on piano.

    "I thought it was stirring," said Chris Miller of Ridgefield during intermission. "I think the Music Centre has done a good job with the pick."

    Barbara Kokalari was also pleased, and said she and her husband try to attend the concerts as often as they can.

    "It's a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon," she said.
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    Contact John Pirro at jpirro@newstimes.com or at (203) 731-3342





    Massive Nutcracker show to be staged at Danbury High

    By Robin DeMerell
    THE NEWS-TIMES   (from Dec 08 2006 )
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    Photography by Carol Kaliff

    Andrea Laubstein
    Andrea Laubstein, 17, of New Milford, right, dances in a rehearsal for the Nutcracker Ballet at Dance Dimensions in Brookfield
    The Danbury Music Centre's "Nutcracker Ballet" started out in 1966 as a simple holiday concert of several of composer Tchaikovsky's more familiar pieces, known as the "Nutcracker Suite."

    It wasn't long until the performance snowballed into the entire ballet. Since then it's grown into what many call an epic performance that attracts a sell-out crowd of thousands each December.

    Forty years later, the entire "Nutcracker Ballet" is still performed at Danbury High School every holiday season. And over those 40 years, the Danbury Music Centre production has come to mean many things to many people: a family tradition, the start of the Christmas season, a community bond, a cultural event and, for some -- a life-altering experience.

    Brookfield resident Mary Ronan and her family are enjoying their 12th year of volunteering with the production. Plus, for the past 10 years, she and her husband Ed have been on stage as part of the party scene.

    "For many of those years, we were Clara's parents and my dad was the grandpa," said Ronan.

    Their son Steve, now 24, was a stagehand in middle and high school. Daughter Maggie, a 2006 graduate of Danbury's Immaculate High School, was last year's Sugar Plum Fairy.

    The show was a stepping stone for Maggie, now a dance major at Fordham University who dances at the Alvin Ailey School in New York City.

    "When she was an angel when she was 6, she said 'Someday I'm going to be the Sugar Plum Fairy.' And she worked very hard to get there," said Ronan. "Last year was just a wonderful year for all of us. To have her as the Sugar Plum Fairy -- it was thrilling."

    According to Ronan, the show gets better each year.

    "The quality of the performance has changed dramatically over the past 12 years," she said, crediting Arthur Fredric, the artistic director since 1997, and his wife. Lisa Denton, for continuing to pour on the pizzazz. "From the littlest tiny things like the shoes to the bigger things -- there isn't any area they haven't improved."

    Kaitlin Lipner, foreground, and Lauren Beardsley
    Kaitlin Lipner, foreground, and Lauren Beardsley, both 12, warm up before a rehearsal for “The Nutcracker Suite.”

    Fredric, of Brookfield, works with a small crew of associate choreographers and stage managers, and many credit him with steering things in a positive direction. He has a reputation for working well with children -- he's kind and humorous, but firm enough to get the performance he wants.

    As the soldiers and ballerinas take the stage at a recent rehearsal, more than a handful of children glance consistently at Fredric as though to catch an approving nod. The children -- some trained dancers, others eager novices -- have a great time riding on each others' backs, play fighting, tumbling and rolling around on the stage as mice, ballerinas and soldiers. As a group of tiny dancers tries to carry away an enormous teenage soldier, Fredric can't help but laugh. "You guys are hysterical," he says.

    But at the end of their work, they had Fredric's approval: "It's precise, full of life, it's wonderful," he said.

    The key to the show's success, he explained, is taking performers of all levels and blending them into a synchronized performance. "We treat everyone the same. We are creating excellence. Everyone is transformed by the experience -- everyone rises to the bar."

    Fredric, who has an extensive theatrical background (from stuntman and actor to jazz dancer with a Broadway company), said the production has grown to accommodate all of the 200-plus people who audition. So far, no one has been turned away.

    The number of children performing has grown so large in recent years that some dancers missed a cue a few years ago because they were too difficult to manage behind stage. Now there are five stage managers to make sure excited little performers are always under someone's direction.

    Fredric credits his wife with making sure the costumes continue to amaze. He said her experience in dance and theatre, plus her "dramatic eye," make her perfect for the role of costume designer.

    The production is put on and organized by the Danbury Music Centre, whose executive director is Nancy Sudik. She and her husband have been involved in the production for 29 years.

    Sudik's son Michael, now 29, wasn't a dancer, but like many area children, he was bitten by the "Nutcracker" bug the first time he saw it as a youngster. At age 9 he auditioned and won the part of a mouse.

    "He loved it," said Sudik. "Then he became a trumpet player and played in the orchestra."

    The open auditions, held in September, encourage hundreds to participate. This year there are 210 dancers, some as young as 6. But there are roles for all ages and many with the show are adults; some 70 and older. Several families perform together. All dancers are local and there are no "ringers."

    The ballet has always been at Danbury High School, but was originally a more casual affair.

    "It was a free performance and it was one day -- Sunday afternoon, then two days, then three," Sudik said.

    The free performance neared disaster in 1990 when too many people crowded into the auditorium, far exceeding the number of seats. The fire marshal at a public meeting said that overcapacity could never happen again because it was far too dangerous.

    Sudik said that's when they began charging for shows. The first tickets were $2. Prices then rose to $15 and $20.

    James Humphreville, music director emeritus, was there in the very beginning -- when the show was free. He started as a horn player in the Danbury Symphony Orchestra in 1966 and remembers the days when there were just nine dancers.

    Humphreville recalls the first years as "scary," adding, "We didn't know what to do next." He said backdrops were rented in New York -- now they have sets -- and there was always something going not quite right.

    "There's no such thing as a performance that always goes well," he said. But things have now reached a level that the audience can't tell if something doesn't go quite perfectly.

    The performance blossomed in every direction, he said, and the live music adds to the quality. "That's one of the good factors here; we do have the orchestra playing."

    While some kinks may never be totally worked out, Humphreville said the effort put into the performance is tremendous and that's what's given Danbury's "Nutcracker" it's enormous success and longevity.

    "You can't say 'Well, we've arrived,'" he said. "It's like paddling against the current. You've got to keep pushing ahead, trying to improve every little thing you do."

    Although Humphreville retired as music director in 2001 -- Richard Price of New Fairfield has been the musical director since 2004 --- he still worries when the season rolls around. He's even called Sudik while sitting poolside in Florida to check on the weather conditions, because, after all, the show must go on.

    "As an educator, I always say that almost every kid in Danbury has seen or can see a ballet. Not many communities can say that," Humphreville said. "I think we're very fortunate there.

    "I'm impressed by the fact there's so many children involved and getting a great experience," added Humphreville, whose daughter Kim, now 47, is a former mouse and a soldier.

    For the past 10 years , Danbury High School junior Zach Robinson has taken stage as a party boy or a soldier. This year he's the lead Russian; he's strong and serious on stage and his years of being a part of the performance help carry the scene. Despite the long hours and cutting back on other activities, Robinson enjoys being in the "Nutcracker."

    "Every year I don't know if I'm going to do it. It's hard work--- but when it's over you realize how much fun it was," he said.

    Work on the performance starts in August and isn't over until January when the last costume is carefully packed away for next season.

    "It's truly been a partnership with Danbury, the public schools and the Danbury Music Centre," said Sudik, of the non-profit performance. "And the (Danbury Symphony) orchestra has always volunteered.

    It's an excellent way to introduce ballet to children," she added.

    All the dancers are volunteers as are the orchestra members. Sudik said the show could not go on without the hundreds of behind-the-scenes volunteers who do everything from selling tickets to working backstage with hair and makeup. There's a backstage crew of about 50 workers.

    Humphreville said some of the performance takes care of itself, such as the well-tuned orchestra with its 50 volunteer members. But evenings and weekends during the season are tied up with practices. And as the season wears on, the nights get longer.

    "You're tied up every night with something -- either a rehearsal or the performances," said Humphreville. Everyone -- from volunteers to the star dancers -- has to work harder and harder as opening night gets closer."

    Despite all the volunteers, Sudik said the production is expensive, now totaling more than $70,000. With money going toward everything from lighting rentals to artistic direction, props and scenery, the Music Centre just about breaks even each year.

    Ticket sales raise about $45,000. The rest of the money comes from the city of Danbury and through donations, including $10,000 from the Danbury Cultural Commission. Costumes are reused but need constant modification and require the services of a professional designer.

    Like many of the people involved and those who buy their tickets early every year, Mary Ronan can't imagine Christmas without the "Nutcracker Ballet" in Danbury. She said even her daughter -- last year's Sugar Plum Fairy -- is coming home this weekend to see the show.

    "I love the people, the kids, the incredible camaraderie from September to December. That's what we love. It's a gem in the community. It's such a gift that Danbury has," she said. " It gives you the feeling of the season -- it created Christmas for us."

  • A handful of tickets remain for tonight's 7:30 show. If you're interested you must come to the box office at the Danbury Music Centre at 256 Main St. by 3 p.m. (Cash or check only.) The remaining shows are sold out.

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    Music Centre's 'Messiah' an exciting performance

    By The Rev. Albert Audette
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    Special to the News-Times   (from Dec 29, 2006 )

    Now and then great music comes to Danbury; Sunday evening, Dec. 17, was one of the best.

    The Danbury Music Centre's presentation of George Frederick Handel's "Messiah" won a well-deserved, long standing ovation. Over the past five years, I believe this performance to have been the most exciting.

    The Danbury Concert Chorus and Chamber Orchestra were at their best. Mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasic Nolan was stellar. Her rich and crisp vocal power, wondrously elegant, more than equaled the demand; the Metropolitan and New York City Operas truly have a young and rising star.

    Tenor Walter McNeil and soprano Jane Thorngren were perfect for the evening. Each provided depth and lush control while bass Walter Du Melle was robust and polished.

    Every musician seemed to be spellbound by conductor Richard Price, who certainly has extraordinary memory and an intimate awareness of Handel's impassioned score.

    Whatever the cost, it would be good to keep this conductor in Danbury. It is difficult not to admire him since his interpretations, precision and enthusiasm are electrifying. He was the man in charge.

    As though to prove the acoustic excellence of St. Peter Church, harpsichordist Maxim Vladimiroff's performance was superlative. Each note wove sweetly throughout the work. Finally, Stephen Roberts, one of the world's most powerful and well-known organists, proved again to be a master of his craft and he did so with polish and magnificence. Roberts more than deserves his International Who's Who in music status.

    Hats off to Nancy F. Sudik, the Music Centre's executive director, who pulled it all together with professional style.

    Danbury looks forward to this annual opening to the Christmas season. It is a spiritual gift that sets the compassionate and loving tone of the holidays.

  • The Rev. Audette is pastor of St. Peter Roman Catholic Church in Danbury.

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    Student pianist a virtuoso performer

    By Patricia D'Ascoli
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    Special to the News-Times (from Jan. 17, 2007)

    Bianca Yuh
    Bianca Yuh, 16, of New Milford, rehearsing at the Danbury Music Centre.
    When 16-year-old Bianca Yuh sits down to play the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto in G minor, she never looks at the pages of music set before her. The high school junior has long since memorized the difficult piece that she recently performed in the Fifth Annual Danbury Symphony Orchestra Student Concerto Competition.

    One of 10 talented finalists, Yuh was named the winner of the competition. And she will now have the opportunity to perform the concerto as a soloist with the Danbury Symphony Orchestra on Feb. 4 at Ives Hall of Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.

    "She was so motivated by the competition that she worked so hard to get the concerto in tip-top shape," said Edith Sullivan, who has been Yuh's piano teacher for the past two years. "She was so honored to win."

    Sullivan calls Yuh a model student, who is extremely musical, sensitive and diligent. She notes that Yuh always listens carefully to Sullivan's instructions.
    Bianca Yuh

    "She goes home and works like a demon and comes back with everything absorbed," said Sullivan proudly.

    According to Sullivan, the Mendelssohn piece was the first concerto Yuh had ever learned. Sullivan said she selected the concerto for Yuh to play because she considered it to be an excellent vehicle both technically and musically.

    Ariel Rudiakov, music director and conductor of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra who co-judged the concerto competition with Richard Price, music director of the Danbury Concert Chorus, commented on the criteria necessary to win the competition.

    "We are looking to be inspired as well as dazzled by technical preparedness," said Rudiakov, who noted that the winner had to exhibit a blend of technical accomplishment and musicality.

    Playing the piano has always been a big part of Yuh's life. She began studying the instrument when she was 5 and gave her first public recital a year later. In addition to her weekly lessons in Danbury, Yuh plays as an accompanist in a number of venues. Since the beginning of her sophomore year, she has played the piano every Sunday morning for two Masses at Our Lady of the Lakes Church.

    During middle school, Yuh played piano for performances at the Sherman Playhouse. The young musician additionally accompanies the Candlewood Children's Choir and plays for the high school musical productions as well.

    Although the piano is Yuh's main instrument, she also plays the violin and is the concert mistress in the New Milford High School orchestra. When she is not playing in the orchestra, she has participated in both the marching band and the concert band by playing the xylophone.

    Yuh's mother Susan is a bit concerned about how busy her daughter is with her musical commitments which all involve frequent rehearsals, particularly since the 16-year-old is academically at the top of her class and works hard on her studies.

    Noting that Yuh has a great deal of maturity, Sullivan said Yuh "manages to do everything and do it well and still practice the piano."

    Yuh believes that her academic skills have helped her to master the piano, and she plans to continue studying in the future. She is nervous but excited about the upcoming concert and is already thinking about her next audition in March when she will play Chopin's Scherzo in B flat minor.

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    A melodic world premiere in Danbury

    By Gilbert Mott
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    SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-TIMES (from May 4, 2007)

    Paula Kimper
    A suite from the opera "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Paula M. Kimper will be premiered by the Danbury Community Orchestra on Sunday.
    Listeners are invited to step into a new sound world on Sunday, when the Danbury Community Orchestra premieres a suite from the opera "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," by Paula M. Kimper. Exotic-sounding Indian folk music, the sounds of church hymns and the composer's own melodic sensibility are some of the ingredients that went into the making of this world.

    "I started out writing songs," says Kimper of her musical education. "Melodies stick in my head and I make them stick in yours." She is a New Yorker, and living through the September 11 attacks turned her to Thornton Wilder's novel of strangers brought together by fate on a day of tragedy. "It's the only thing I felt like working on after 9/11," she says.

    The opera uses Wilder's main characters, strangers caught on a deadly bridge collapse whose lives leading up to that moment are examined in flashbacks. The composer gives distinctive music to each. "Reading the novel I would hear music in my head for particular parts of it," she says. The novel's South American setting led her to research pre-Columbian folk music, 18th-century Peruvian theater music and Spanish church music, elements of which all found their way into the opera.

    The score is written and the work will be further developed in a workshop setting later this year. "One way to move it along is to get music from it performed in a suite," says Kimper, and that's where Danbury comes in. "(Music Director) Stephan Smith is an old friend. We had Thanksgiving together and he said 'You should really write something for us.'" A suite from the opera was just the thing.

    Kimper says the orchestra has been working hard on the piece and it's been a good experience. There are melodies in the suite associated with each of the main characters, the folk sound of the panpipe and the unmistakable sound of the bridge when it collapses. "Listeners will be in the sound world of the piece," she says, "and hear the melodies."

    At Wednesday night's rehearsal she listened with a critical ear, making corrections and suggestions in an encouraging, friendly way, clearly delighted to hear what she had put on paper being brought to life. Her melodic touch and dramatic flair came through strongly in a first listening. The ethereal-sounding panpipes start, with motifs soon taken up by the full orchestra. A steady tread in the bass instruments suggests the relentless march of fate.

    A busy passage culminates in a whip crack and a dizzying plunge of notes - the bridge has fallen. A drunken old lady's unsteady gait, a little girl's sweetness and other character portraits are sketched. A warm, hymn-like section for brass choir and arresting writing for trumpet and flute stay in the ear. The flutes echo the beginning and the piece closes with a quiet resolution. The colorful orchestral writing and expressive, consonant harmonies under the melodies whet the appetite for the full opera.

    Kimper's own road to "The Bridge" started at an early age, with piano lessons and trumpet playing in the school band. She quickly branched out. "I wanted to play every instrument," she says. "The band teacher said that's what a composer needed to do." She wound up borrowing instruments from the teacher ("My parents said 'But we can't buy you every instrument!'") and grew up listening to the great songwriters of the '60s, like Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and the Beatles.

    It wasn't until she went to the Eastman School of Music (she graduated in 1979) that she really got into classical music. Moving to New York in the 1980s she got involved in writing film music. "It's something you can do independently, with a synthesizer. Now it's even more so - all on a computer."

    Some of her earliest experience with theater music came in Connecticut, where she wrote music for 15 productions by a now-defunct theater company. When first offered a chance to write an opera, she demurred. "It seemed like so many notes." But she took it on, and "Patience and Sarah" premiered in 1998 at Lincoln Center. It has had several performances since and another is due in Oakland this June.

    Her second opera, "The Captivation of Eunice Williams," has had a similar history. Contemporary operas that get repeated revivals after their premieres are not all that common, but Kimper seems to have found the knack for telling stories in music that appeal to listeners. Danbury can get an idea of how she does it on Sunday. The 7 p.m. performance is at Ives
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    Concert Hall, 181 White St., in Danbury.





    Capturing Ives' vibes

    PBS documentary on Danbury composer employs Danbury, New Fairfield bands

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    By John Pirro
    THE NEWS-TIMES   (from May 28 2007)
    Photos by Karen Vibert-Kennedy
    Emma Cott, Mike Anderson
    InCA Productions director Emma Cott, left, and cameraman Michael Anderson discuss the next shot of their PBS documentary about Danbury composer Charles Ives during filming Sunday in Putnam Park in Bethel. Filming resumes today at Wooster Cemetery in Danbury.

    BETHEL -- The Danbury Brass Band stood at the top of the hill, prepared to march toward the camera and play "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean." A few hundred yards away, the Danbury High School Marching Band stood ready to perform "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

    Silence fell over the crowd as director Emma Cott of InCA Productions raised the loudspeaker to her lips to start the camera rolling.

    Suddenly, from the nearby woods, a baby began crying. Not missing a beat, sound man Dan Gleisch deadpanned, "Wild babies were common in Ives' time," and spectators erupted in laughter.

    It may be true that none of Charles Ives' musical compositions included a squalling infant as part of the score. Neither did the Danbury-born composer's creations incorporate the sound of aircraft flying overhead, although it's a fair bet that had jets existed when Ives was writing, he would have found a way to use them.

    When television viewers tune in to the Public Broadcasting System's documentary on Ives scheduled to be aired in late 2009, neither babies' cries nor jet engines will be part of the soundtrack. But they were two of the distractions the film crew had to overcome when they turned part of Putnam Park into an outdoor recording studio Sunday afternoon.

    What viewers will hear, and see are the two musical groups converging on each other while simultaneously paying two different patriotic marches in different keys and different tempos.

    Marching Bands
    The Danbury High School Marching Band and the Danbury Brass Band cross paths during the filming of a PBS Documentary about Ives in Putnam Park in Bethel May 27, 2007.

    "Ives had this thing about two different bands," said tuba player Tom Griffin of East Haven, one of several musicians from around the state recruited to join the Danbury Brass Band for the session. "It's going to be quite unique because it's only going to be a minor second apart."

    The sounds of two bands playing was one of the earliest musical influences imparted to Ives by his father, George, a former Civil War military band leader and a leading musician of his time.

    Part of the documentary being filmed on Sunday dealt with Ives' early life. Danbury's Wooster Cemetery will be the set for an early film session today, when the New Fairfield High School Marching Band will play.

    Trying to play one's own instrument while being serenaded by another band playing something else was a trick few of the musicians had previously encountered.

    "It was hard to hear the drum line," said Danbury High trumpeter Mike Bovin. "Once you lose the drum line, the music just falls apart."

    A crowd of about 50 people watched the filming. Some, like Wanda Bropleh, whose son, Nahba, a Newtown High School trumpeter playing with the Brass Band, came because they knew someone who was performing.

    Others, like David Close of Wilton and his wife, Ann, of Wilton, just happened upon it.

    "We came out with our granddaughter to see the museum. We didn't even know this was happening," Close said.

    High school band director Nick Albano said his students probably wouldn't fully appreciate the experience until they see themselves on TV.

    "Right now, standing around in full uniform for hours, I don't think they're feeling the excitement," Albano said.

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    (Several other articles about Charles Ives are also reprinted on this page.)

    Ives Day . . . . Memorable Ives . . . . Charles Ives . . . . Event . . . .


    Event gives fans glimpse of composer's life

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    By John Pirro
    staff writer   (from Oct. 22, 2007)

    Nancy Sudik, executive director of the Danbury Music Centre, shows visitors Charles Ives’ childhood bedroom, which he shared with a brother. She holds up the the walker Ives used as a toddler.

    DANBURY -- When Joseph Barron was in high school 33 years ago, his friends were listening to music by rock groups such as Led Zeppelin and Wings.

    But Barron's tastes ran in a more classical direction, and the course was set for good when he discovered a couple of albums of music by Danbury-born composer Charles Ives in the basement bargain bin of a Gimbel's department store.

    "I've been in love with Ives' music ever since," he said.

    On Sunday, Barron was among the score of Ives enthusiasts who spent the day retracing the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer's footsteps through the city, visiting the site of the Ives family retreat on Pine Mountain in Ridgefield, the house where he was born and his final resting place at historic Wooster Cemetery. They capped the day by attending a performance of Ives' music at the Danbury Music Centre.

    Born in 1874, the son of a man who had been the youngest bandmaster in the Union Army during the Civil War, Ives began writing music as a child and was heavily influenced by his father's experimental style.

    His works failed to garner critical acclaim in the United States, but were popular in Europe. It wasn't until late in life -- Ives died in 1954 -- that his music was accepted by American audiences.

    Alan McSpiritt of New Jersey discovered Ives when he found a copy of "Three Places in New England" in his father's music collection.

    "I thought, 'This is the most bizarre thing I've ever heard,' but something kept pulling me back to it," he said.


    Visitors touring the Charles Ives home Sunday listened to Danbury Music Centre musicians, including Larry Deming, right, a center director, who played the violin.

    Ives was famous for incorporating the works of other composers into his music, said Nancy Sudik, executive director of the Danbury Music Centre, who helps organize the annual Ives Day celebration.

    This year's observance focused on the connection between Ives and legendary American composer Steven Foster, who wrote such popular tunes as "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Camptown Races".

    Fragments on those Foster tunes and others can be heard in some of Ives' works.

    "There's always something new. It's never difficult to come up with a theme for Ives Day," Sudik said.

    The house in which Ives was born has been moved several times since it was built by his great-grandfather in 1790. It now stands on Mountainville Avenue, near Rogers Park Middle School, and Ives fans are hopeful about receiving a state grant to turn it into a museum.

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    (Several other articles about Charles Ives are also reprinted on this page.)

    Ives Day . . . . Memorable Ives . . . . Charles Ives . . . . Capturing Ives' . . . .


    Hartford composer brings music to Danbury

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    By Gilbert Mott
    STAFF CORRESPONDENT   (from May 2, 2008)

    The Danbury Community Orchestra doesn't content itself with worthy performances of the great classics, but presents works by contemporary composers as well. It may come as news to some that there still are composers of music in classical forms, but there are. Last year the orchestra played an opera suite by Paula Kimper and this spring it's the "Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra" by Connecticut composer Robert Edward Smith.

    One could call Smith a "triple threat" -- he has had an active career as performer, composer and teacher. He is composer in residence at the Trinity College Chapel in Hartford and teaches at the Hartt School, the performing arts division of the University of Hartford.

    He is also an accomplished harpsichordist, known for his performances of Baroque masters such as Bach and Couperin. And a look at his Web site shows how prolific a composer he is, with a long catalogue of works for chorus, solo instruments and various ensembles.

    Asked about the influence of all that Baroque music on his own works, Smith admits to a fondness for writing counterpoint, the often intricate setting of multiple lines of music that characterizes that era. The lyrical, melodic aspect of much of his work is what stands out, however. This neo-Romantic character was foreign to much of 20th century music but, as the composer notes, it has made something of a comeback.

    The "Concerto for English Horn" was commissioned by the Nashua Chamber Orchestra in New Hampshire. "They had performed my 'Variations on an American Folksong' and originally commissioned an oboe concerto, which I started to write", he says. "But their oboist starting playing the English horn and became so obsessed with it that she asked me to change."

    The English horn is a close relative of the oboe and one might think that the music Smith had started writing could easily be switched to the other instrument, but he says no.

    "I had to start over. The English horn has a different personality -- it has a richer tone, but it's less sprightly."

    He ended up stretching the limits of the instrument in the last movement of the concerto, exploiting the very top of its range and calling for unusual agility by the soloist.

    "Bach wrote a concerto for oboe d'amore, an instrument quite similar to the English horn, that uses its highest range and is very nimble, so that inspired me to do the same," he says.

    The work was played twice at its premiere, and Smith says it was very well received. "I don't know if they liked the music or the performers just had a lot of friends there, but the audience jumped to its feet, shouting."

    The Danbury concert will feature the last two movements of the three-movement work, which Smith says will work well as a whole.

    "The second movement has solos for everyone in the wind section," he says, during which the English horn drops out. Overall, the movement's mood is gloomy, the kind of feeling most often associated with the English horn.

    The last movement, by contrast, is a boisterous gigue (a lively dance). "I really push the limits of the instrument, to show that it doesn't always have to sound sad. Just like trumpet music doesn't have to be all fanfares, or harp music all arpeggios."

    The Community Orchestra programmed the work after its conductor, Stephen Michael Smith (no relation), met the conductor of the Nashua ensemble, who recommended it to him.

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    "He really knows what he's doing" says composer Smith of conductor Smith. "The piece is in good hands."




    New opera takes symphony on exploration

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    By Jan Stribula
    CONTRIBUTING WRITER   (from May 16, 2008)

    DANBURY -- As music director for the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Ariel Rudiakov has taken some voyages, but on Monday night he circumnavigated the globe at Marion Anderson Recital Hall at the Danbury Music Centre.

    The DSO performed the live first reading of part of the recently completed new opera "Malaspina," by Jose Luis Greco (b. 1953). It was the first time Greco, Rudiakov, or anyone else around the world had ever heard the music performed.

    Last December, Nancy Sudick, executive director for the Danbury Music Centre, met with Greco and suggested that Rudiakov and the DSO might be able to perform the opera. Greco was delighted at the prospect of hearing some of it for the first time live.

    Greco is the son of the eminent dancer Jose Greco (1918 - 2000) and resides in Danbury with his sister Allesandra, when not living in Madrid. Allesandra teaches dance at A Common Ground in Danbury.

    The opera is based on the true adventures of the 18th century Spanish navigator Alessandro Malaspina, who went on a five-year expedition gathering scientific information, only to be imprisoned upon his return home due to changes in the politics.

    Much of Malaspina's research was confiscated, along with his diaries, and his name was effectively erased, much to Spain's own disadvantage.

    On Monday night at the reading, only the closing scene of Act One from "Malaspina" was performed by the DSO, without vocalists. Sight reading new music can be challenging, but instructive. After repeating some passages a few times, the orchestra went from sounding tentative to confident, getting the feel of the intricate rhythms and working out dynamics between all the instruments.

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    Greco was obviously enjoying hearing out loud what's been in his head for so long. Everyone seemed relatively at ease with the give and take required in the process of creating new music. Hopefully, the opera will be performed in full in the near future.




    Dress up for space-themed concert Saturday

    Dress as your favorite Star Wars character for pops concert Saturday on CityCenter Green

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    News-Times Staff   (from June 18, 2008)

    DANBURY -- After the resounding success of the Connecticut Film Festival, two downtown organizations are continuing the focus on film and the movies that has energized Danbury.

    On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., when the Danbury Music Centre and CityCenter Danbury kick off the free outdoor summer music season with their annual concert on the CityCenter Green on Ives Street, everyone in the audience is invited to come dressed as their favorite "Star Wars" character.

    This year's program, "Invasion from Outer Space," includes familiar music from the scores of the well-known movies "2001: Space Odyssey" and "Superman," and a 25-minute medley from the "Stars Wars" trilogy.

    Continuing with the movie theme, Stars Wars Storm Troopers will be in attendance. The event will conclude with an outdoor laser light show.

    The Danbury Symphony Orchestra, has been the premier orchestra in Danbury since 1935. Its mission is to provide opportunities for area residents to perform great music and present concerts of high quality to the public.

    It is under the direction of Ariel Rudiakov.

    Ample parking is available at the Patriot and Bardo garages.

    Those attending can bring a picnic supper to the concert, as well as chairs and blankets to sit on. Alternately, downtown restaurants will provide takeout meals and refreshments will be sold. Chairs can be rented through CityCenter Danbury.

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    The rain location is Danbury High School, Clapboard Ridge Road.

    For a complete list of CityCenter events, log on to www.citycenterdanbury.com



    Music to our ears: Concert to Benefit Danbury Music Centre

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    By Susan Podhajski
    CONTRIBUTING WRITER   (from Nov. 5, 2009)

    For more than 35 years, the Danbury Music Centre has been enthralling residents of the Greater Danbury area with musical performances and productions featuring local talent. This weekend, two of its members (and past performers) -- Christina and Howard Rovics -- are giving back. The vocalist and composer will give a benefit concert on Sunday for the nonprofit organization.

    "This concert will provide an opportunity for our area community to hear some of the finest classical performers from our local region," said Christina Rovics. "In the intimate setting of the lovely Marian Anderson Hall of the Danbury Music Centre, audience members will be able to meet each artist personally and experience the exciting synergy of talented people who love and admire each other's artistry, and are singing together simply for the joy of it."

    "Christina Rovics & Friends" will feature Christina and five other area vocalists performing art songs, duets and opera arias. The diverse program, which was put together by Christina and Howard Rovics, showcases music by such master composers as Debussy, Richard Strauss, Verdi, Puccini and Gershwin.

    "I chose artists who are good with this type of music," explained Christina Rovics. "I put together the program and then asked them to perform the ones that they would be most comfortable with."

    Featured artists scheduled to perform include Nancy Brant of Ridgefield; Gordon Jones of Southbury; Michael Trnik of Bethel; internationally renowned tenor Perry Price of Danbury; and Cheryl Hill, also of Danbury, and a former featured soloist of the Danbury Community Orchestra.

    "It is a great joy for me to work with Christina and Howard," said Hill. "I have known them for more than a decade and find them to be dedicated to their craft and hard-working."

    A graduate of Danbury High School, Hill released her seventh CD, "Toward the Unknown Region," last May. For the benefit concert she will perform two arias, one from "Porgy and Bess," the other from "La Boheme," in addition to a duet with the Rovics.

    All of the vocalists will be accompanied by Howard Rovics.

    The Rovics have been performing together for more than two decades and have five CDs to their credit. They recently returned to the recording studio to tape a group of songs that Christina, who is a soprano, will sing at the Danbury Music Centre.

    "To hear this kind of music is a real gift," she said. "But then to be able to enjoy it and then play it together ... well, it just doesn't get any better than that."

    The Danbury Music Centre sponsors musical groups comprised of both amateur and professional musicians from the Greater Danbury area. Members are encouraged to study music, hone their skills and share their talents with the community.

    The Marion Anderson Hall at the Music Centre is named in honor of the late, great American contralto, who was a member of the centre's board of directors.

    The Christina Rovics Vocal Studio in Bethel provides private vocal instruction in Broadway, classical and opera. In December, students of the studio will give a concert featuring Broadway show tunes to benefit the Bridgewater Church.

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    If You Go "Christina Rovics & Friends" Danbury Music Centre 256 Main St. The music begins Sunday at 3 p.m. Suggested donation is $10 per person; $5 for students and seniors. Tickets available at the door. For further details, call 203-744-5841 or visit www.christinarovics.com




    Danbury Concert Chorus gives debut performance of 'Walden' Nov. 14

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    By Gilbert Mott
    CONTRIBUTING WRITER   (from Nov. 5, 2009)

    The Danbury Concert Chorus is in the midst of helping to create a brand-new work of art: the world premiere performance of "Walden," by Brookfield's Maxim Vladimiroff.

    It's a big project to launch an ambitious piece like this one. It started with a commission from the Danbury Music Centre, the chorus' parent organization. Richard Price, music director for the Danbury Concert Chorus, wanted to memorialize his mother and niece, and helped the Music Centre with the commission. Vladimiroff is the DCC's accompanist and a prolific composer, especially of choral pieces. When he suggested a text from the journals of Henry David Thoreau, it seemed like a good fit.

    "My mother and my niece loved both music and nature," says Price. "Max has a special attraction to nature and a remarkable understanding of Thoreau."

    For Vladimiroff, it was a chance to revisit a text he had set 10 years ago. "I reworked it a lot; whole sections are different," he says.

    Vladimiroff came to this country from Russia in 1991; 10 more years of speaking English had made him more comfortable setting Thoreau's words.

    "I know a lot more about the stresses of the language now and I consulted a lot of people to really get it right," he adds.

    The composer first got to hear his new work in the spring, when the chorus read through it. "I was able to get suggestions from Richard and from members of the chorus and make some changes."

    Writing with a specific group in mind makes a big difference, he says, and makes the music better. "They work like professionals. We're now past just learning the notes and we're really making music."

    They were doing that on a recent evening with Price on the podium and Vladimiroff at the piano. Thoreau writes of "the inquisitive chickadee" and "the song sparrow telling of expanding buds" and the composer creates a forest cacophony of skittering, overlapping vocal lines. Price coached the singers through tricky cross-rhythms of two against three beats until they were secure.

    "They have found it a challenge," he says, "because the piece doesn't have a lot of places to regroup. If you get off, there's no place to hang onto -- you have to count like crazy."

    Chords had to be balanced and sustained notes held strongly. Price had the tenors speak an irregular, chant-like passage first to make it secure, then put it together with an improvised section for sopranos that made a striking effect. As notes solidified, subtleties of phrasing came to the fore and the group truly was making music.

    "Thoreau's words are so sonorous; he writes with an invitation to hear," says Vladimiroff. "His theme is that there is a place, not grandiose perhaps, either actual or imaginary, where spiritual truths are revealed to us. It's a universal theme, so it can be sung by a group and they can all relate to it."

    A local audience will soon have a chance to relate to it, too.

    The Danbury Music Centre presents the Danbury Concert Chorus on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 8 p.m.

    The concert will be at St. James Episcopal Church, 25 West St., in Danbury.

    The 100-voice Danbury Concert Chorus is under the direction of Richard Price, music director and conductor.

    This concert will feature the world premiere of "Walden: The Poetry of Nature" by Maxim Vladimiroff, for chorus, baritone, piano and string orchestra, set to texts from the journals of Henry David Thoreau. Joining the chorus will be baritone soloist, Robert Honeysucker. Members of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra string sections will also perform in this premiere.

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    IF YOU GO "Walden: The Poetry of Nature," by Maxim Vladimirof performed by the Danbury Concert Chorus Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, 25 West St. in Danbury




    Price is leaving on a high note

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    By Gilbert Mott
    CONTRIBUTING WRITER   (from March 11, 2010)

    Life is full of tough choices and Richard Price had to make one recently. The music director of the Danbury Concert Chorus found the demands of his growing recording business meant that he couldn't give the chorus the time it deserved, so he regretfully announced his resignation.

    "I never skimped musically," he says, "but there was so much more I could have been doing -- tours, more concerts. There is so much research and planning that goes into putting programs together. Around November, and especially in December, I felt I was in danger of dropping the ball, and that's not good."

    Price took over the chorus in 2002. He first conducted choirs as a teenager, but it was as a French horn player that he started his professional career. A Midwest native, he came to New York to study at Juilliard, and then spent 15 years playing the horn.

    "I played for Broadway shows and in the Borealis Wind Quintet and did lots of freelancing," he says.

    Choral music was always a strong interest as well.

    "I had a reasonable voice and could read music well, and I learned early that those things meant you could always find work. And I fell in love with Renaissance music, which has to be sung."

    He became active as a conductor and arranger and started producing some of the recording sessions he was working on. In 1991 he decided to retire from horn playing and do something different.

    "I learned recording engineering to go with the producing and then worked for 14 years in a New York recording studio."

    When that studio shut down, he and two colleagues formed their own, Candlewood Digital, in New Fairfield.

    He sees his role in the studio as similar to that of a conductor. "We can learn musical scores quickly and hear whether the performer is executing," he says. "We help them realize their artistic vision."

    Candlewood's recordings have twice been nominated for Grammys.

    Shortly after moving to New Fairfield, Price got out his horn again and found himself in an ensemble next to fellow brass player Nancy Sudik, executive director of the Danbury Music Centre, the chorus' parent organization.

    "She asked if I missed playing full time and I said no, but I did miss choral conducting. When the Concert Chorus position opened up, she remembered our conversation."

    Sudik says Price has "raised the bar for making music in the whole Greater Danbury area. He'll be very hard to replace, but thanks to him it should be easy to find candidates who want to conduct the chorus."

    They'll have guest conductors next season and plan to have a permanent music director in place by the end of 2011 or early 2012.

    "It's been a happy eight years" with Price, says Sudik. "No one ever believed that the chorus could be so good."

    Price says he'll miss the people of the chorus above all. He mentions last spring's world premiere of local composer Maxim Vladimiroff's "Walden" as a highlight of his tenure, along with a performance of Mendelssohn's "Elijah." Those are examples of a new tradition he started, having the Concert Chorus and Danbury Symphony Orchestra join forces for a concert every year.

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    "And I love doing Handel's `Messiah,' " he added, a long-standing Music Centre tradition. Whoever is chosen to carry it on will have a tough act to follow.