Sage City begins season with all-Brahms program

BENNINGTON — The Sage City Symphony is starting its 45th season on Sunday with an all-Brahms program, and director Michael Finckel sees a bright future for the ensemble.

"In my view every it just year gets better add better with that orchestra," Finckel, a Bennington native, said Friday from New York City. "It's always been a remarkable institution for a small town like Bennington to have a largely volunteer orchestra of such a high quality and to have so many both amateuer and professional musuicians turn out year after year to be involved with it."

The season-opening concert will be held in Greenwall Auditorium on the Bennington College campus on Sunday at 4 p.m.. Admission is free and donations at the door are gratefully accepted.

The all-Brahms program will start with Cailin Marcel Manson, director of the Bennington County Choral Society, conducting the chorus and orchestra in "N ine (Song of Lamentation)." It's the first collaboration between the Choral Society and the Sage City Symphony since the orchestra's 20th anniversary celebration.

Second on the program will be a performance of the third movement of Piano Concerto No. 1 played by Bennington College student Tony Lu. A native of Wuhan and student at Bennington since 2015, China, Lu is visually impaired and learns all music by ear.

"He's quite extraordinary," Finckel said of Lu. "He knows the work inside and out. `

The program will conclude with Symphony No. 2, which Finckel says has become his favorite Brahms composition.

"I can't imagine that the infectious nature of working with this won't spill into what the audience is going to hear on Sunday afternoon. It is beautiful music," Finckel said.

While Sage City Symphony is a community orchestra, a good one-third of its roster is made up of professional players, Finckel said.

"We're very lucky to have so many fine players," he said, adding that allows the ensemble to take on more ambitious pieces that other community orchestras of similar size might not be able to handle.

Finckel grew up in Bennington and had early exposure to music thanks to his parents, who were both part of the Bennington College faculty. His father George taught cello, while his mother, Maryann, taught piano.

"It's a constant joy for me to return," Finckel said. "It's one of, if not the most enjoyable activities as a musician I participate in throughout the year. I love the Sage City Symphony and I think it's a mutual thing."

Additional concerts this season will include a winter concert on Feb. 11, featuring tubist Andrew Larson playing Ralph Vaughan Williams' tuba concerto; a youth concert on March 11, showcasing the works of Bennington College student composers; a spring concert on May 20, featuring concert master and Bennington College teacher Kaori Washiyama as violin soloist for Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov; and in keeping with the orchestra's tradition dating back to it founding, a commissioned piece, the Appalachian Trail Symphony by Keane Southard.

The orchestra, founded in 1972 by Bennington College professor Louis Calabro, and his wife, Christine Graham, has commissioned work every year, and annually features the work of young composers.

"[Calabro] was a percussionist and a quite prolific composer," Finckel said of Sage City's founder. "He and [Graham] were the ones who felt an ongoing community orchestra for a community, in the community, could be a viable entity. They pushed forward and made it happen. And every year as part of that, one of the cornerstones of the orchestra was its commissioning program. "

Every other year, Finckel said, the orchestra sends an established composer into community to work with area high school music teachers, and premieres 8 to 10 works by high school composers from Vermont. In alternating seasons, including the one that begins Sunday, Sage City performs the work of college student composers.

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