MONTROSE – It’s been 40 years since the Valley Symphony Orchestra had its humble beginnings with just a handful of people in the home of a Cedaredge couple. Over the years, the orchestra has evolved into a first-class organization with more than 70 members, ranging from professionals to novices.
Members of the orchestra are all volunteers, and come from all over the area, meeting in Delta once a week for rehearsals year round, said conductor and musical director Mike Kern.
“We even have people from the Grand Junction Symphony – some pros and semi-pros along with novices – so it become a teaching experience,” he said.
Kern knows something about teaching, having served as band director at Ouray High School for 16 years before retiring a couple of years ago, and for many years before that in his native Indiana.
While it’s the 40th anniversary of the symphony, it’s Kern’s 18th year as conductor, he said, and he’s happy with how it has grown and gotten better over the years. He said the orchestra has more members than ever, with an expanded string section.
“As we have improved, more people are happy to play with us,” he said.
Kern is the major reason for the orchestra’s improvement, said Larry Sims, orchestra clarinetist and long-time symphony board member.
“Mike is very good at picking music [that is] right at our ragged edge of being able to play it, which pushes us each time,” he said.
But there’s a wide line between music too difficult for younger musicians and boring pap, Sims said, and Kern does a good job of picking music that’s interesting to both the musicians and the audience.
The orchestra’s next two concert series show that diversity, with “The Romantic Russians,” performances by Russian composers in February, and selections from the Big Band Era in late April and early May. Both sets of performances will be held at both the Montrose Pavilion and the Delta Center for the Performing Arts.
In September, the orchestra also staged free “concerts in the park” in Cedaredge and on the lawn at the Montrose Pavilion.
“It’s the first time we’ve done that in Montrose, and we will do it again,” Kern said.
The works of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff will be featured in performances at the Delta Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, Feb. 25 and at the Montrose Pavilion on Sunday, Feb. 27. Both performances are at 7:30 p.m.
The featured soloist is Russian pianist Kirill Gliadkovsky, who has appeared in Montrose several times in the past, Kern said, and will perform during Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Another selection will be Tchaikovsky’s March Slav and Scherzo by Rachmaninoff, which is most often performed as a violin or cello solo, he said.
“We are doing the orchestral arrangement which Rachmaninoff did himself,” Kern said.
The bill will be more toward the popular vein when the orchestra plays selections from the classic 30’s and 40’s big bands such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, on Friday, April 29, in Delta and Sunday, May 1, at the Montrose Pavilion.
Pianist Jordan Carls of Montrose will be featured on the piano during the big band concerts, Kern said, which will also include music from modern bandleaders like Stan Kenton and Chuck Mangione.
The universal appeal of the music the symphony performs is another reason for the symphony’s growth, said symphony board member Priscilla Fry, not only musically but financially as well.
“Last year we turned a profit for the first time, while most community orchestras around the country are in the pits,” she said.
The quality of the orchestra attracts performers from as far away as Durango and Grand Junction, but also from Montrose, Ouray, Ridgway, Cedaredge and Crawford, Fry said.
“We’re good enough that people from those areas want to come and participate,” she said.
Fry has been singing has been singing in the Valley Symphony Chorus for 15 years, back when it is the Grand Mesa Singers. The chorus is now connected to the symphony and performed with it for this year’s Christmas program, but puts on its own programs as well.
The chorus has a new director this year in Lenore Hample, who moved here when her husband Dave, who was hired as CEO of Montrose Memorial Hospital two years ago. In addition to directing the chorus, Hample was assistant musical director for the Magic Circle Theater production of My Fair Lady, and most recently was musical director for its presentation of Oklahoma.
Hample has a bachelor’s of music in organ performance and a master’s in choral conducting. She has also taught choral conducting at the college level, has been music director and organist at several churches, and said this area has a lot of vocal talent that she takes joy in sharing with the community.
“Music is a universal language and it doesn’t matter if you understand the words our not, because music can touch the soul,” she said. To learn about joining the chorus, Hample can be reached at 417-4353.
The next performances of the Valley Symphony Chorus will be Friday, March 25, at the Delta Center for the performing arts and Sunday, March 27, at the Montrose Pavilion, both at 7:30 p.m. and will focus on gospel music and folk songs for an “eclectic tapestry of music,” Hample said.
The 75-member chorus will sing gospel classics like The Storm is Passing Over, Amazing Grace and On the Wings of Morning, along with love songs like My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose by Robert burns and classics such as Shenandoah, Old Dan Tucker and Little Liza Jane.
“There should be something for everybody to like within the program,” Hample said.
For more information on concert tickets, visit the Valley Symphony and Chorus website at HYPERLINK "http://www.valleysymphony.net" www.valleysymphony.net.