Golden season’s finale May 16

A season of celebration will reach its grand finale when the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra performs the last concert of its 50th anniversary season on Saturday, May 16.

It will be a joyful evening with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 as its featured work. The choral symphony with its Ode to Joy was first performed in 1824, when it was an instant sensation. The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s 66 musicians, conducted by music director Gerald Steichen, will be joined Saturday by the Fairfield County Chorale, directed by David Rosenmeyer, members of the New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, director, and soloists Theresa Santiago, soprano, Melissa Parks, mezzo-soprano, A.J. Glueckert, tenor, and Ron Loyd, baritone.

In his program notes, Courtenay Caublé writes, “The audience that heard Beethoven’s revolutionary Ninth Symphony at its first performance in 1824 must surely have been overwhelmed by a musical tour de force unlike anything they had ever experienced before — an experience made all the more potent by the knowledge that the music’s composer, who was totally deaf, had conceived such a masterpiece entirely in his head, without benefit of auditory inspiration or confirmation.”

As with other concerts in this anniversary season, the main work was selected with input from audience members who were polled last season.

While the 2014-15 season has honored the symphony’s history, from its beginning as the Ridgefield Symphonette in 1965 to the fully professional ensemble now led by music director Steichen, the view is definitely eyes-forward.

As executive director Larry Kopp explained in the program for the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary Gala Benefit Performance this spring, “The RSO’s raison d’etre, a professional orchestra performing at the highest artistic levels, is truly a never ending journey. Perfection is elusive and fleeting, in matters musical as in all endeavors…. The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, every time it takes the stage, feels the impetus of its founders in striving for the highest in technical and musical excellence. This is a goal, a task, a journey that is never ending.

“And what of the other major component of the RSO’s mission, strengthening and expanding appreciation and interest, of music by all in the community? The world is a different place in 2015 than it was in 1965 and 2065 will undoubtedly be very different from today. The RSO will continue to change, to evolve, to meet the needs of the community we serve,” wrote Kopp.

This golden anniversary year has been a good one for the symphony, Kopp said. A 24% increase in subcriptions, “literally unheard of among orchestras today,” he said, has been accompanied by increases in attendance at all concerts of at least 10% and an all-time high in year-end giving.  The orchestra launched a new program this season in partnership with SPHERE, an organization for adults with developmental difficulties that includes a strong arts component. In the fall, SPHERE members had a session with the symphony’s lead trumpet, John Charles Thomas, and then attended a full concert.

“For almost all of them it was their first time seeing a live symphony orchestra and they absolutely loved it,” Kim Pereira, the director of SPHERE’s music and performing arts program, told the Ridgefield Press.

The Ridgefield Symphony draws subscribers from as far away as Washinton Depot in Connecticut and Larchmont, N.Y., Kopp said, and saw an overall geographic broadening of its subscriber base in the past year, a trend he hopes to continue. With a strong backing in Ridgefield, home to 58% of its subscribers, the symphony has performed in adjacent towns twice during the current season: a pops concert featuring music of the “Rat Pack” at Wilton’s Clune Center and its Gala Benefit Performance at the new Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University’s Westside Campus in Danbury.

Broadening its base of subscribers is important for the symphony but ticket income accounts for slightly less than a quarter of the organization’s overall income, Kopp said. “Around 72% is donated, either through individual donations, corporate/business sponsorships, fund-raising events and donations from private foundations.

“This season,” he added, “approximately 4% comes from the government (state and local), but that number is going to drop considerably next season, as state funding is being cut. Also, the Ridgefield Orchestra Foundation makes a generous annual donation, but the foundation’s income ultimately also comes from individual donations to the foundation. In future seasons, we are looking to broadening our donor base, with more individual and business/corporate donors and continuing to expand ticket sales.”

As this year’s season wraps up on May 16, plans are well underway for the 2015-16 season and while Kopp was not ready to release full details, he said that among the pieces to be performed are Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade, Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 “Haffner,” Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Mahler’s First Symphony. The popular Holiday Celebration Concert will continue, he said.

The May 16 season finale concert will take place at 8 at the Anne S. Richardson Auditorim of Ridgefield High School, 700 North Salem Road/Route 116. The concert will open with Franz Schubert’s Ballet Music from Rosamunde. Single tickets begin at $25 ($20 for seniors and $15 for students); for reservations, visit or call 203-438-3889.