When the Akron Symphony Orchestra celebrates 40 years of performing at the University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall on Saturday, the auspicious occasion will feature three stars of the UA School of Music that represent the special synergy between the two institutions.
They are concertmaster Alan Bodman, principal clarinetist Kristina Belisle Jones and UA Director of Orchestras Guy Bordo, who will guest conduct Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture for Saturday’s anniversary event. (Tickets start at $25 for the 8 p.m. concert. Call 330-535-8131, 330-972-7570 or see www.akronsymphony.org.)
Bodman joined the UA music faculty in 1986 and has been the orchestra concertmaster for 19 years. He previously served as principal violist. On Saturday’s program, he will be featured in Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).
Belisle Jones, UA professor of clarinet, is in her 13th year as principal clarinetist with the Akron Symphony. This weekend, she will solo in Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Collateral Damage, written by UA colleague Nik Resanovic, a professor of composition who is of Serbian heritage.
His 2000 work is inspired by the tragic events surrounding the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The piece, whose outer movements blend contemporary, classical and Eastern European folk idioms, will feature Belisle Jones in an unrestrained-sounding clarinet solo in Funeral for a Rock Star as an undercurrent of low brass and strings evokes a funeral procession. Another movement, Serbian Hoedown (The bombs fly but the band plays on) is dedicated to the people who gathered at Serbian bridges during bombing raids in 1999 to engage in defiant speeches and traditional folk singing and dancing.
“The piece is captivating throughout,’’ said Music Director Christopher Wilkins, who first heard Belisle Jones play Collateral Damage for a group of university students. The piece, which clarinetist Franklin Cohen played with the Cleveland Orchestra in 2005, has both light, dance-like moments and others that are more intense.
Choosing “a recent piece by current faculty, played by current faculty, felt perfect,” Wilkins said.
The 40-year relationship between the Akron Symphony and E.J. Thomas goes back to the orchestra’s first concert in the hall on Oct. 9, 1973. The hall came about through teamwork among leaders at the university and Akron’s performing arts organizations, including the symphony.
Dr. Ray Sandefur, dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the time, helped spearhead the effort to build the new performing arts venue. He is the late father of Renee Pipitone, current president of the Greater Akron Musical Association.
The orchestra’s inaugural concert in the hall, conducted by Louis Lane, included Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80, which will be reprised Saturday.
“The university tie-in is right there, written into the music,” Wilkins said of the piece, which shows the lighter side of Brahms. Brahms was asked to compose a solemn song for the German University of Breslau in 1879 but instead wrote “a very jolly potpourri of students’ songs,” including drinking song melodies.
Wilkins, who invited Bordo to guest conduct Academic Festival Overture, said he has wanted Bordo to conduct the Akron Symphony for a long time. Bordo, in his ninth year at UA, said he is looking forward to taking part in Saturday’s celebration.
“There are a lot of wonderful musicians in this orchestra. Some of them are colleagues of mine,” he said. “In a community like Akron, the symphony orchestra is really a cornerstone of culture.”
He said the Academic Festival Overture, dominated by good melodies, is a popular piece with orchestras at every level.
“Orchestras love to play Brahms. The quality of the music, the quality of the writing is so high. Nobody sounds like Brahms,” he said.
Finally, the concert will end with Strauss’ ravishing A Hero’s Life, which features a 100-piece orchestra led by Bodman.
“It’s as exciting and sumptuous and impressive as orchestral music gets,” Wilkins said. “I wanted something grand and virtuosic to show off the orchestra.
“What it celebrates is what an orchestra can be and what orchestral music can be.”
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.