Members of the Warwick Symphony Orchestra (WSO) have tuned their instruments for the 2013-2014 concert season, which marks the 47th season the community-based, non-profit orchestra will share its talents with fans.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress in recent years in developing the programming of the Orchestra,” said Conductor and Music Director Catherine Gagnon, who has been with the Orchestra for three seasons. “The Orchestra is playing more challenging music and they are doing a great job with it. We have lots of new members. We’ve been building our membership over the past couple of seasons and people are sticking with us.”
The WSO is comprised of volunteer musicians who reside throughout Rhode Island, with a few from Southeastern Massachusetts. The number of members fluctuates depending on the concert, but they have approximately 60 players of all ages.
“We have from about age 15 to 90-plus,” Gagnon said.
Carolyn Payne, a viola player who lives in Warwick, said while a majority of players are local, they have members from many countries, including viola player Jose Guzman of Guatemala, as well as Concertmaster and First Violinist Nika Webster of Kazakhstan.
“It’s a group of people from diverse backgrounds making music together,” said Payne, who has been a member of the WSO since it formed in 1966. She played violin before taking up the viola in 1975.
As for local players, several were trained in Warwick schools. Payne went to Vets, while Assistant Concertmaster Sara Werner, a First Violinist, attended Toll Gate. While Werner loves performing, there’s another factor she loves about being part of the WSO.
“It’s such a great group of people,” said Werner, who joined the Orchestra in 1990. “We have musicians from beginners to professionals. Catherine is really good at picking music that appeals to everybody.”
Werner started playing in elementary school during her days at Potowomut. Along with Payne, she expressed the importance of music programs in local schools.
“A lot of kids start when they are in school, and it’s a nice outlet,” Werner said.
Each WSO season typically begins in the fall and wraps up by spring. This season consists of four distinct musical programs.
“This is a new model we’re following in an effort to bring the Orchestra more in line with what most other community orchestras throughout the country do,” Gagnon said. “We used to follow a model where we would rehearse for three or four months and then have identical concerts while traveling the state.”
While they’re still touring throughout Rhode Island, the first of the four separate themes, is “Tootin’ Our Horns,” a fall concert series featuring soloist Jaime Thorne.
“Tootin’ Our Horns” is set for this Saturday, and will take place at the Temple Am David at 40 Gardiner Street in Warwick at 8 p.m., as well as St. Ann’s Arts & Cultural Center at 84 Cumberland Street in Woonsocket Sunday at 3 p.m.
They will also be joined by a French Horn Choir comprised of students from the University of Rhode Island, including Jeff Mandler and Ciara Dawson, along with a student from Moses Brown, Justin Smith, as well as Nalin Richardson of Connecticut.
“The concert features the orchestra in several pieces alone, but we are also attempting to promote and support French horn playing in our area,” said Gagnon, who is also a French horn player. “We’re just trying to raise the awareness of the instrument and the music out there.”
Just in time for the holidays, they will also present “A Winter Celebration.” The series will feature two pop concerts, the first of which will take place at the Pilgrim Senior Center at 27 Pilgrim Parkway in Warwick Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m., and a second at the Salvatore Mancini Center at 2 Atlantic Boulevard in North Providence on Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
“We always have two very enthusiastic crowds at those two venues,” Gagnon said. “They are always very well attended. We’ll play the music that you can expect at that time of year.”
In springtime, they will visit two places for the first time, including St. Kevin Church at 333 Sandy Lane in Warwick on March 29 at 7:30 p.m., as well as the Community College of Rhode Island Knight Campus at 400 East Avenue in Warwick at 3 p.m.
These events will incorporate the theme, “Old England...New England.” The Orchestra is set to pay music by British and American composers specifically tied to New England. They will perform, “Requiem,” which Gagnon said is a “beautiful piece by the British composer, John Rutter.”
“And we’ll be collaborating with the West Bay Chorale, which is based in Warwick,” she also said, adding that Amanda Santo, West Bay Chorale’s artistic director, will perform a solo.
As for late springtime, the WSO will focus on Orchestral Jazz, as well as “Pop ‘N Rock.” Rock fans are in for a treat, as they will feature music from bands such as The Beatles, Journey and more.
“There’s going to be a piece called, ‘Take Five,’ which is quite famous,” said Gagnon. “There will also be a tribute to Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and several pop pieces, including ‘Viva La Vida’ by Coldplay. It’s an opportunity for us to present a concert that reaches out to the community in a different way. Orchestras certainly do play music other than classical.”
Shows are set for May 29 at 7:30 p.m. at The Greenwich Odeum at 59 Main Street in East Greenwich, and June 1 at 2 p.m. at the Carousel at Goddard Park, located at 1095 Ives Road in Warwick. Werner said she particularly enjoys performances at the Carousel.
“That’s always nice,” she said. “People walking by stop and see a show.”
Gagnon hopes the concerts are all well attended. She said whether the WSO is performing classical or popular music, they value their audience.
“Sometimes, people think orchestra music isn’t necessarily their style, but I encourage people always to give it a try,” she said. “Part of our mission is to provide live musical experiences, which is getting more rare.”
Learn more about the WSO at wsori.org.