Musical Feast

by Michelle Kisthardt Published:

The Akron Symphony kicks off the holiday season with its Holiday Pops series which blends traditional carols with contemporary holiday favorites.

The Dec. 12, 13 and 14 concerts will feature the Akron Symphony chorus and guest conductor Carl Topilow, music director and conductor of the Cleveland Pops.

The Dec. 12 concert takes place at The Chapel in Green at 7:30 p.m., the Dec. 13 concert at the Akron Civic Theatre and the Dec. 14 concert in Medina at the Medina Performing Arts Center.

But the entertaining does not end after the holidays. The upcoming season offers something for everyone, including seven classic series concerts, three pops series concerts, the 20th anniversary celebration of Gospel Meets Symphony, the Akron Symphony Chorus spring concert and the Concerts for Kids series.

"Popular favorites, timeless classics and new discoveries all have a place in our concerts this season," says Christopher Wilkins, Akron Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor.

"Each year brings new and exciting opportunities," says Joanne Green, Akron Symphony Orchestra director of marketing and public relations. "We're excited about 'The Rite of Spring,' which brings with it a collaboration between the Akron Symphony and Groundworks Dance Theatre for a first-of-its-kind staged performance."

Green says the orchestra is also thrilled to be working with guest artists like Alexander Schimpf, the winner of the 2011 Cleveland International Piano Competition- Jeanette Sorrell, the music director for Apollo's Fire in Cleveland, who will be conducting Bach's Brandenburgs concert in February; and the above-mentioned Topilow.

The Orchestra itself has several Hudson connections - orchestra members Miles Richardson (cello) and Gary Davis (trumpet), plus more than a dozen Akron Youth Symphony members as well as several board and guild members. In addition, Concerts for Kids take place at the First Congregational Church of Hudson and Symphony outreach programs thrive at Laurel Lake and other Hudson community locations.

Quite a few young Hudson residents are members of the Youth Symphony. Julie Micheletti's and Jim Gray's son, Robert (Robby) Gray, is part of the Youth Symphony's clarinet section. A sophomore at Hawken School in Gates Mills, Robby manages to juggle varsity soccer with his musical pursuits.

"The youth symphony is a wonderful experience for young people, and he is really enjoying it," says Micheletti, a flutist with a doctor of musical arts in flute performance.

Max Bruno, son of Martina and Michael Bruno, became involved with the Akron Youth Symphony after the orchestra director at Akron's Miller South school encouraged him to audition for the Akron Youth Philharmonic in 2009.

"Both our son, a violinist, and our daughter, Antonia, a trumpet player, are now involved with these wonderful groups," Martina says.

Martina says the time commitment from the children is substantial -- three-hour weekly group rehearsals along with practice on their own most days. She says, "It is exciting to be able to hear our kids practice at home and then hear how all of their hard work comes together at a performance."

Akron Youth Symphony members play at Concerts for Kids that take place at First Congregational Church of Hudson. This year the Symphony received a grant from the Hudson Community Foundation to help fund the concerts.

Hudson Community Foundation Director Lisa Drew says, "We are in the midst of our annual fund drive and it is donations derived from this effort that enables us to support programs such as this and accomplish our mission to Enrich Hudson Forever." Drew points out that HCF donors are able to direct their gifts to one of four areas, including arts and culture.

Dr. Thomas More Scott, music director at the First Congregational Church, says the church's Fellowship Hall is well-suited acoustically for their performances.

"Attendance for the concerts is fairly robust," Scott says.

The Akron Symphony's outreach goes well beyond children's concerts in Hudson. They visit Laurel Lake regularly, entertaining and educating residents. Prior to their recent Rhapsody in Blue concert, Wilkins and Levi Hammer, assistant conductor of the Akron Symphony, gave residents an overview of the upcoming concert.

Laurel Lake Public Relations Coordinator Donna Anderson said, "They were just amazing, explaining and analyzing the music. The residents loved the dazzling display of talent when Levi Hammer played the piano." Anderson said the Akron Symphony programs are always well-attended. Residents may also watch the programs live via closed circuit television in their homes.

Akron Symphony board member and Hudson resident Linda McDonald has been active on the board for two years, following many years of enjoying Akron Symphony concerts. She says, "I love the enthusiasm and brilliance of Christopher Wilkins and Levi Hammer. Not only does each bring remarkable talent, expertise, and knowledge of music but they also make it fun and accessible to the audience."

McDonald says many of the Symphony musicians have presented programs at the Hudson Library and Historical Society and to various Hudson service and community groups.

"The Akron Symphony has a history of community engagement in Akron, Medina and Hudson, particularly."

Green adds, "The Akron Symphony is more than an orchestra. It's a community organization that's committed to enhancing the quality of life of our community through education and musical excellence."

For a schedule of upcoming concerts, visit www.akronsymphony.org. v

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