The York Symphony Orchestra explores the unknown with “Mothership” (a semi-improvised piece) and others in a space-themed performance at the Strand-Capitol in York on Saturday
In a time when many city orchestras are finding it hard to remain relevant – not to mention profitable – the York Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Lawrence Golan, has found ways to achieve both. Times are tough for many orchestras; the Philadelphia, Syracuse and Louisville orchestras have all recently declared bankruptcy and an orchestra in Colorado has resorted to cannabis-friendly concerts to bolster attendance.
The resurgence of interest in the YSO, however, is due in large part to Golan’s programming style, which has included some more non-traditional approaches like pairing masterworks alongside lesser known gems or fresh new pieces and combining in visual presentations, all the while committing to keeping ticket costs low and likewise make the concerts more accessible. This season, concerts are selling out at unprecedented rates as the audience has grown to include a wide range of ages.
“This is truly York’s Symphony Orchestra,” says Golan.
Golan – who also conducts orchestras in Denver, Co., and Yakima, Wa., – and is himself a virtuoso violinist who once toured with Frank Sinatra – is extremely excited about Saturday’s outer-space themed program entitled “New Frontiers.” The concert features three pieces: “Mothership,” “The Planets” and “A la busca del mas alla (In Search of the Beyond).”
The show opens with “Mothership,” which was written in 2011. “In classical music, that’s brand new,” laughs Golan.
The piece was originally commissioned by the Youtube Symphony Orchestra, which formed in 2008 as the first online collaborative orchestra, before making its debut at the Sydney Opera House in March of 2011. The concert was streamed online and was viewed by almost 2 million people.
Golan performed “Mothership” for the first time in Denver last Tuesday night. “It went very well,” he says. “The audience loved it.”
“Mothership” composer Mason Bates – currently the composer-in-residence of the renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra – is a fresh new voice on the classical music scene and also performs electronica under the name DJ Masonic. His modern orchestral piece contains undercurrents of throbbing dance hall-style drums and bass among the string and horn sections and also features an extra percussionist triggering sounds downloaded to a laptop from a program that comes with the piece’s sheet music.
“Mothership” includes four improvisational solos (the original performance featured electric guitar, violin, zither and bass). The concept is that the orchestra symbolizes a giant space station, and four smaller crafts, represented by the improvisational soloists, “dock” on the mothership as they journey into the unknown.
Golan rehearsed “Mothership” with the York Symphony Orchestra for the first time on Thursday and hasn’t yet determined who will be performing the improvised solos. He will be taking volunteers from the orchestra with interest and experience in improvisation.
“That’s the beauty of a professional orchestra, these are all top-notch professional musicians,” says Golan. “We are able to have our first rehearsal on Thursday and perform on Saturday.”
The concert continues with Golan’s choice of a lesser-known work entitled “A la busca del mas alla (In Search of the Beyond),” written by Joaquin Rodrigo. Rodrigo was inspired to write the piece after a visit to Houston and a tour of NASA. This will be the first time Golan conducts the piece.
The celestial theme concludes with Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” – the evening’s most recognizable work. Holst wrote “The Planets” between 1914 and 1916 with idea to the capture the mood of the astrological character that represents each of the planets. “So for example, Mars is the Bringer of War, Venus is the Bringer of Peace, Saturn is the Bringer of Old Age and Jupiter is the Bringer of Joy,” says Golan.
Audience members will recognize the chaotic, militant, dark tones of the suite’s first piece “Mars: The Bringer of War” as the inspiration for “The Imperial March,” Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars.
“John Williams, who wrote the score for Star Wars, is the king of film scoring,” says Golan. “He is a classically-trained Juilliard-trained composer and is intimately familiar with the classical repertoire and many of his films are inspired by the great classical pieces.”
“The Planets” is accompanied by a visual media presentation by Ben Gondrez – a planetary scientist at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery in Colorado. Gondrez takes the audience on a journey of the planets from Mercury to Neptune in time with the music.
If symphony music is as unknown to you as outer space then now is a great chance to get familiar with orchestral music. Explore the celestial sights and sounds of the York Symphony Orchestra this Saturday as they take you on a journey through the galaxy.
“New Frontiers” takes place at the Strand-Capitol (50 N. George St., York) on Saturday, March 21. 7:30 p.m. $9-$39; $5 for students. Click here for tickets.