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Winter 2003

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Orchestra turns twenty

In dress rehearsal with the Skidmore College Orchestra, Anthony Holland exhibits gestures typical of a conductor—whole-body dips, swings, bows, and bounces—and uses his baton to punctuate the air with sweeping loops and purposeful hatch marks. Although casual in a turtleneck and cargo pants, he takes his role seriously. “Give me some accents, strings!” he implores, stomping his foot on the podium. “Dee dah deeee… more crescendo please…read what’s written…now—more bow, more bow!” he says, leaning into the players. And then, reassuringly: “Remember that—that was good!”
         Holland and his orchestra were practicing for their twentieth anniversary concert, held in October at the Bethesda Episcopal Church in Saratoga Springs. The program—an ambitious one that included the world premiere of Holland’s Concerto for Organ, which he tailored specifically to the orchestra—also celebrated twenty years of support from the Filene Foundation by featuring Filene scholars past and present.
     For Holland, who passionately adores conducting (and talks about it in capital letters with exclamation points), the anniversary represents a milestone in his work to raise Skidmore’s symphonic offerings to new heights.
     Holland was twenty-six years old and “literally twenty-four hours out” of grad school when he arrived on campus as a new faculty member in 1982 and was given the primary task of rebuilding the college orchestra. “Isabelle Williams, then chair of the music department, had a long-held vision that Skidmore should have an orchestral program that would serve as the flagship ensemble for the department,” Holland says. “Our goal the first year was just to put together a simple, humble concert—to see if students, faculty, and staff could be pulled together for a common cause—then to build on that,” he recalls. Williams, he notes, was tireless in her support, encouraging the players with weekly “pep talks” when they rehearsed.
     There was indeed a concert that fall, and the orchestral program was bolstered by the addition of Filene scholars—top-notch student musicians—to the orchestra. (Helen Filene Ladd ’22, an organist in her undergraduate years, established the Filene Foundation in 1982.) In the early 1990s, the ensemble was augmented with about twenty professionals—mostly string players from the Albany, Schenectady, and Glens Falls Symphony Orchestras.
     “Our department does not actively recruit music students, so it is difficult to attract enough string players,” Holland notes. But this fall, he was ecstatic to have twenty-five violins at the orchestra’s first rehearsal—the largest number in twenty years. He attributes the increase to students learning about the orchestra from the college Web site, the ongoing Filene scholarship program, and the orchestra’s reputation.
     Skidmore’s orchestra, Holland believes, is on par with those at some conservatories—with the added benefit of being in a liberal arts setting. “We have a powerful program,” he says, “but since we don’t tour and haven’t released any recordings yet, it’s difficult to publicize.” Still, there was no problem attracting a sizable crowd to the celebratory fall concert.
     The musicians played with confidence and agility, following their conductor through every twist and texture of the varied program—perhaps the orchestra’s most challenging one to date. And the audience responded with copious applause and standing ovations.
     Holland exudes potent enthusiasm when he says, “Conducting at Skidmore is a real joy! When we play a Beethoven symphony, and it’s the first time the students have performed it—what a kick it is to teach them how to play history’s greatest music! The joy on their faces when they achieve a good performance is worth all the hard work and extra hours we put in.” Here’s to the next twenty years. —MTS

Five memorable moments
1. Tenor soloist Garland Nelson ’97 in Mendelssohn’s Elijah
Garland had never sung classical music before, but I helped him build his courage, vocal stamina, and musical skills to the point where he stood before an orchestra of seventy people, a chorus of seventy more, and a church filled with hundreds of people and sang the most wonderful solo I could have imagined!

2. The world premiere of Henry Brant’s Skull and Bones
This monster work, over an hour long, was written for the entire music department, with over two hundred people performing in all. We had five conductors, with the legendary Henry Brant himself conducting the other four conductors.…What an unforgettable blast!

3. Maestro Dwight Oltman guest-conducting Beethoven’s Fifth
Before he left the stage, he congratulated the college for supporting such a fine ensemble, and pointed out that we were engaged in a very noble and artistic cause which approached the spiritual and helped all people appreciate the greater side of humanity. It was a beautiful speech; the students were deeply moved, as was I.

4. Piano soloist Lansing Taylor ’93 taking off his shoes and socks
I said, “Lans, do whatever you have to do so you can play the heck out of this MacDowell piano concerto; I just need you to play your best.” In five seconds flat he took off his shoes, socks, coat, and tie, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and stomped out on stage. He played like a madman—the floor shook under my conducting podium!

5. The orchestra’s very first concert in December 1982
As we approached the middle of the performance and things were going well, I knew this was the beginning of something wonderful and I would dedicate my life to making this en- semble the best it could be.…All the musicians concentrated so hard that when it was over, we all hugged, cried, and shivered with excitement at what we had just started.
—Tony Holland

 


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