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Youngstown Symphony bringing Mozart to life

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Published: Thu, September 27, 2018 @ 12:05 a.m.
 

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The Youngstown Symphony Orchestra will mark a historical milestone with a fresh approach at its season-opening concert.

The performance Saturday will kick off the YSO’s 50th season at Powers Auditorium.

It will include a unique theatrical program that features an actor playing Mozart as he reads letters he’s written to his wife, father and cousin.

Youngstown-based vocalist and actor James McClellan will play Mozart, and the orchestra will perform some of the composer’s most treasured works during the segment, which will be the first half of the concert.

Soprano Misook Yun, a vocal professor at Youngstown State University, and baritone Thomas Scurich, a music educator in the Canfield School District, will sing arias from the Mozart operas “Don Giovanni,” “The Magic Flute” and “The Marriage of Figaro.”

In the second half of the evening, the YSO will perform Mozart’s Symphony No. 41.

The Mozart letters program was created by Randall Craig Fleischer, music director and conductor of the YSO, along with McClellan.

It’s part of the orchestra’s effort to present classical music in new and entertaining ways – even if it means straying from the traditional concert format.

“We’re really trying new approaches this season,” said Patricia Syak, president of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra.

She described the first part of Saturday’s program, titled “Amadeus Live: Love and Romance,” as a play within a concert.

“The orchestra will be pushed way to the back of the stage and it will be somewhat darkened,” said Syak. “It’s not what you’d usually see at a classical concert.”

The three actor-singers will be in period costume.

As Mozart, McClellan will be at the front of the stage, at a desk.

“He will be reading letters Mozart wrote. Mozart’s father was always asking him for money and many of his letters are like ‘gee, dad, sorry I couldn’t send you as much as you wanted.’ And in all of these laments, we’ll hear arias and duets from Mozart’s three operas, all classical pieces of music.”

Syak called it “a slice of the short but fascinating life of Mozart.”

The Mozart piece is similar to one McClellan performed with the YSO in 2009. But the new segment focuses on different letters and the music is also changed.

“These letters reveal the naughtiness we’ve come to know from the ‘Amadeus’ play and movie, but they’re his actual words,” said McClellan, who is also the operations manager of the Youngstown Playhouse. “They reveal the trials and triumphs of his musical career and his personal life, and they’re placed in the concert to coincide with the musical selections the orchestra will be playing.”

McClellan said the YSO performance – unlike the movie – focuses entirely on Mozart and shows his various sides.

“We get the playful Mozart along with the tender, rather sweet Mozart, who loved his wife, and sought his father’s approval, and was, above all, an artist faced with financial challenges yet was undeterred in his love for composing music,” said McClellan. “Bringing Mozart to life during the concert gives the audience a context for the music and adds theater to the evening.”

In this era of entertainment overload, orchestras across the country – including the YSO – are trying new things to keep attendance steady.

That includes collaborations with other arts groups, said Syak.

“It was foremost in our thinking as [Fleischer] and I sat down and went over this year’s programming: How can we work with other groups and encourage patrons who support these other organizations to come and see the YSO for the first time?”

The orchestra will up the ante again in February when it presents semi-staged concert version of the Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls.”

“Everybody wants excitement and experiences, and we’re trying to play the classical music in a little different environment,” said Syak. “Hopefully, our audiences will find it interesting.”

Although the YSO is playing fewer concerts this year, the amount of work it will put into each has increased.

“A lot more effort and time is put into these type of shows,” said Syak. “Some may see it as risk-taking but we view it as a way to create awareness and make it more exciting.”



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