New England Symphony Orchestra “From the ‘New World'” at Mechanics Hall
WORCESTER — The New England Symphony Orchestra returns to Mechanics Hall on April 9 for its third concert this season entitled “From the ‘New World'”.
It is a concerted effort by the orchestra’s musical director and conductor, Roderick MacDonald, to make Mechanics Hall and Worcester the new home of the orchestra.
The program of “From ‘The New World'” includes the Meistersinger Overture from Nürnberg – Richard Wagner; Trumpet Concerto in E flat major — Joseph Haydn, with MacDonald the solo trumpeter; and Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World”, — Antonín Dvořák.
On September 11, NESO was at Mechanics Hall for their first in-person concert since the pandemic, “Reopening: Bach, Beethoven and Beyond.” In December the orchestra returned with “Festive Baroque & Beyond” in a concert which also included the Worcester Children’s Chorus conducted by its musical director Pamela Mindell.
NESO has an impressive history dating back to 1974 when it was founded as the Thayer Conservatory Orchestra and loosely affiliated with the Thayer Conservatory at the former Atlantic Union College in Lancaster. The orchestra later changed its name to the Thayer Symphony Orchestra as it no longer had ties to the college and performed regularly at the Dukakis Center for the Performing Arts in Fitchburg and other locations.
The orchestra changed its name to the New England Symphony Orchestra in 2016.
MacDonald grew up in Foster, Rhode Island and earned her master’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory in Boston. In 1989, he was hired as principal trumpet of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, one of the oldest symphony orchestras in the world, by Kurt Masur. As a concert soloist he has performed with ensembles all over the world and is also a founding member of the Leipzig Baroque Soloists. His discography consists of more than 25 recordings.
After returning to New England, MacDonald sat on the first trumpet chair with ensembles and stood on the conductor’s podium. MacDonald is also an associate professor of music at the State University of New York Fredonia.
MacDonald was a guest trumpeter with NESO and became its music director in 2014. But by the time of his appointment, attendance had dwindled and concert times were steadily reduced along with many calls for support.
As a first “litmus test” for Worcester, NESO held a Halloween concert at Mechanics Hall in 2018. Other plans were in the works, but then came the pandemic.
MacDonald was in Dresden, Germany, when he recently answered a few questions via email before heading back to the New World and his April 9 date at Mechanics Hall.
Q: You had a very successful career as a trumpeter in Europe. Do you always come back on stage? Is that what you’re doing right now?
A: Even though the pandemic has slowed down stage performances, I also try to keep making music in Europe. I have contacts in Germany and I continue to find interesting companies there. Last time I was in Europe, I interviewed legendary living conductor Herbert Blomstedt for about 45 minutes in Dresden, Germany. I worked under his baton in the Gewandhaus orchestra for six years. He is the oldest active conductor in the world right now at the age of 94. I did the interview for a music appreciation class I teach at my college (SUNY Fredonia) where I have a tenured position as a music teacher.
Q: What made you decide to come back to the United States?
A: It was a tough decision because things were going well but I thought I didn’t want to retire in Germany and now was the best time to make the transition. I got a permanent position at SUNY, Fredonia in 2006 where the first line of the job description was “maintain an active performing career”. A near and dear to my teaching follows this directive.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a conductor?
A: Not really, but I was inspired by the conductors I worked with during my 17 years with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. It feels like magic when you have great musicians all around you playing the music of the best composers with a conductor that allows the enchantment to happen.
Q: What are the challenges of performing Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto? Who conducts while you play or do you still conduct the orchestra?
A: It is both a challenge and a vocation to play with the instrument of your choice on stage. I believe that’s what I do and that it’s important to be “out there” performing at every opportunity. I asked my first trumpet teacher (Bruce Hopkins) to conduct the Haydn Concerto. Unlike some baroque trumpet music, this concerto from the classical period needs unwavering direction at the helm. He is a professor at a college in Worcester and teaches and leads a group there. It was like coming full circle with another trumpeter on the podium. (Hopkins’ affiliations include teaching trumpet at Holy Cross College and director of orchestra at Assumption University.)
Q: Can you easily get back on the conductor’s podium after performing the piece or do you have to catch your breath?
A: That’s a great question and it’s not easy to do both. It requires a balance between strength and relaxation because there is a curious difference between leading and playing an instrument. The focal point between strength and relaxation is different for the two activities. I placed the solo piece before the intermission to be able to move more easily from one state to another.
Q: The rest of the program also seems to be great – did you deliberately choose popular tracks to try and win over your new Worcester audience?
A: Anton Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony is a pinnacle of orchestral music. To attend this concert is to hear its beautiful melodies and exciting cadences perfectly. Historically interesting, the Czech composer was on stage at Mechanics Hall to conduct in 1893. … “wielded his staff vigorously and swiftly” was all I could glean from this event mentioned in a periodical. I haven’t found out yet what music he conducted that day at Mechanics Hall. It reminds us that Worcester has a gem in Mechanics Hall; hailed as one of the finest acoustics in the country.
Plus, whatever you think of Richard Wagner as a person, we’ll also perform his Meistersinger Overture, music considered one of his best.
Q: How are the concerts in Worcester? Will the orchestra make it its new permanent home?
A: Worcester needs a top symphony orchestra that will consistently play great music from the past and champion music to come. Just as Worcester needs good schools, hospitals, police and clean water, it also needs a good symphony orchestra to serve its ambitious and demanding audience. Yes, we hope Worcester chooses us for this role.
The New England Symphony Orchestra presents “From the ‘New World'”
When: 7:30 p.m. on April 9 (doors 7 p.m.)
Where: Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St., Worcester
How much: $42/$35 general admission (floor/balcony); seniors $40/$32; students (11+) $12. www.eventbrite.com/e/from-the-new-world-new-england-symphony-orchestra-tickets-241336603277