Bogidar Avramov and Sierra Summer Festival supporters Joanne and Byng Hunt. (Photo: Geisel)
Economy rings sour note, but Eastern Sierra Symphony still makes sweet music
In these tough economic times, it’s a shorter list perhaps to talk about who hasn’t been challenged by cuts of one sort or another.
As one might expect, that’s especially true for large performing organizations, such as opera and ballet companies, and symphonies. Even when sold out, ticket sales aren’t nearly enough to cover the cost of producing those shows, which have historically been dependent on private donor and grant funding.
Even well known orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony have been hit hard by the economy, and Detroit nearly lost its orchestra recently. Veteran Eastern Sierra Symphony Orchestra (ESSO) Conductor Bogidar Avramov said the company has also been dinged by cuts in state grants and other funding shortfalls, including a decline in second homeowners as lodging supporters.
Most of the performers are volunteers, and even those professional musicians who do get paid work for far less than scale. “The don’t do it for the money,” Avramov pointed out. “It’s a work love.”
The Maestro coudn’t have better worded the commitment involved in staging one of the festival’s biggest shows. In only a week or so, he and the group had to rehearse several “very robust” pieces for 70 players, plus 40 choir members for this year’s Sierra Summer Festival. The last time the festival had anywhere close to that many performers on stage was 10 years ago for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, with a visting choir from Bonn, Germany.
On the bill for this year’s finale shows are signature pieces by three composers that Avramov thinks will cover the “full spectrum, from novice to music lover to connoisseur.” Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” Avramov described as “not too complex, but very emotional” and “one of America’s great masterpieces.”
Next up is “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius, which Avramov said evokes the nature and braveness of Finland and its people. “It’s hard-driven, and full of tension and drama.”
Special guests, the Eastern Sierra Community Choir will join forces with the orchestra in the show’s grand finale of excerpts from Borodin’s celebrated opera about Imperial Russia, “Prince Igor.” Listen for some very recognizable melodies that have been “borrowed” from Borodin over the years. The opera is one of the most esteemed, ranking alongside “Aida” and “La Traviata.”
Leader of the band?
Avramov indicated that next season will probably be his last with the ESSO. “I’m in Europe a lot now, and have engagements that keep me very busy there. And it’s time,” he said. “New blood, and all that. Besides, at my stage in life, I want more peace and stability.”
Avramov said not to expect many other major changes, however; the ESSO’s core elements are, he thinks, fairly stable. “The orchestra is at the height of its musicianship,” Avramov observed. Newman will likely still continue as Concert Master. “She’s wonderful; her prestige in L.A. as a musician and composer is growing. Maria is also creative and brings good ideas, and works well with the [ESSO] players.”
No decision has been made yet as to who will take over as conductor, but the Maestro suggested the ESSO’s Board of Directors, the community and the orchestra members themselves “will have much to say” about who takes up the baton.
“After 34 years, the ESSO is at its pinnacle, a very respectable level of artistry,” he summarized. “We can play virtually any kind of music and on a modest budget.”
SSF performs “Music From Enchanted Lands” at Mountain Ski Area’s Mountainside Conference Center on Friday, Aug. 12, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Aug. 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available online at www.sierrasummerfestival.org, at Mammoth Gallery locations and at the door.