Ridgefield Symphony opens with Romantic Russians

Jerry Steichen will lead the opening concert of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, Oct. 3.
Pianist Jason Hardink will perform with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra in its season-opener on Oct. 3.

The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra will open its 51st season on Saturday, Oct. 3, with Romantic Russians. The program will begin at 8 p.m. in the Ridgefield High School auditorium, 700 North Salem Road (Route 116).

The RSO has a five-concert season, which runs through May. For the opener, Jerry Steichen, the symphony’s music director and conductor, has selected works by Borodin, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky.

According to executive director Larry Kopp, the mission of the RSO is to provide high quality orchestral music to the community. “There are 70 regular members of the orchestra. All are professional musicians who live throughout the tristate area,” he said. The repertoire is generally from the 19th and 20th centuries; however, the orchestra does perform a popular holiday concert in early December that includes a wider variety of works, and this year, featuring Jessica Medoff, mezzo-soprano and Metropolitan Opera soprano Monica Yunus.

The RSO is non-profit, Mr. Kopp said. “Tickets make up 23% of our income. We have to raise the rest through donations and sponsorships.

“Every fall, Jerry (Steichen, who is music director of the RSO and the principal pops conductor of the Utah Symphony), myself, musicians, community members, and board members sit down and talk about what we would like to play in the upcoming season,” he explained.

Borodin is a Russian composer from the late 19th Century. “The Borodin piece is from an opera and is supposed to represent the Mongol invaders arriving in Russia. It’s a very colorful piece. It uses a very large orchestra. You get a real sense of the steppes.”

Kopp said that classical music has been around for a long time because it addresses everyone in humankind and has universal themes.

With the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 on the Oct. 3 program, “it is about battling against fate. Everyone can relate to times they’ve had problems. It’s very powerful when you have 70 people onstage playing at the same time,” he said.

“A concert is a communal experience; it’s not like someone listening to a CD in their house. It’s a powerful experience, especially because of the combination of the great music, the number of people, and the audience.”

Kopp said orchestra is growing. “Our audience size increased 300% after our first season. We had a 24% increase in subscribers from last year. No other community of our size — there are 23,000 people who live in Ridgefield — in the U.S. has its own professional orchestra.

The RSO offers a program called “Concert Conversations,” which is in its second season. It’s a pre-concert talk given by Michael Lankester, the former music director of the Hartford Symphony. Lankester talks about the music that will be played in the upcoming concert and puts it in a broader cultural setting. He talks about the time in which the pieces were composed, and what was going on in the other arts at that time.

The Concert Conversations program runs from 7 to 7:30 p.m., on stage, before the start of each concert. Lankester will answer questions.

The season includes The Holiday Celebration concert on Saturday, Dec. 5; Redemption Through Love, on Saturday, Feb. 13, when former assistant conductor Petko Dimitrov will be guest conductor of a program of works by Warner, Schumann and Rimsky-Korsakov; Classical Contemporaries, featuring Mozart, Haydn and Telemann, on Saturday, March 5 (this concert will be at Wilton High School’s Clune Auditorium), and First and Last, with Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 1, on Saturday, May 14.

“Mahler,” Kopp said, “was a very modern person, very conflicted. He had a lot of different sides to his personality. He was nostalgic for the past but at the same time, he was a very modern composer, always looking toward the future. Today, there is a certain nostalgia for the past but people are looking towards the future as well.”

One of the performers on opening night is Jason Hardink, who is a pianist with the Utah Symphony, and will play the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No. 1.

In a recent conversation from his home in Utah, he said that during a concert, “You rely heavily on the conductor. You are relying on him to react to everything that you do. You work with some conductors who are less sensitive than others, while other conductors never miss a beat. Jerry Steichen is the latter.”

Hardink explained there is balance in the concerto between brilliance and poetry. “This piece doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is a breath of fresh air for me. It has a lot of longevity because it’s among the greatest music ever written. It has survived the test of time.

“We have choices in our daily lives, such as the choice between sitting down to watch a movie and reading. Reading a book is like going to a classical concert. It’s incredibly fulfilling and enriching but you forget that it’s there until it’s right in front of you.”

Tickets for each of RSO’s concerts cost $25, $45, or $60.

For more information on The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, visit ridgefieldsymphony.org, or call 203-438-3889.