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Celebrating old and new: LRSO kicks off 35th year



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Barbara Willette of Rumney and Phil Breton of Laconia during rehearsal for the Lakes Region Symphony Orchestra with bassists Norma Marshall and Karen Young. Erin Plummer. (click for larger version)
November 23, 2010
MEREDITH — Music once again fills the air in the Inter-Lakes Community Auditorium as the Lakes Region Symphony Orchestra has taken the stage for a new season celebrating first-time and veteran musicians.

The symphony's 35th season kicked off with a concert on Nov. 6, with three more concerts scheduled through May of 2011.

The LRSO is a volunteer orchestra with musicians showing up Monday nights for rehearsals for four concerts a year.

LRSO Chair Chris Mega said he was thrilled with the season opener on Nov. 6 and the season has gotten off to an excellent start.

"We couldn't have asked for a better outcome," Mega said. "We had a really good audience that night."

The first concert of the season featured 15-year-old violinist Laurel Gagnon of Hooksett, the winner of the symphony's first ever concerto competition for high school students with the winner performing on stage. Gagnon went through an audition and judging process to win the competition.

"She was absolutely amazing," Mega said. "She tore the place up. It was fabulous, she closed out the first half and we did 'Mozart Symphony No. 41.'"

This year the symphony has been welcoming talent as young as high school age while honoring their longtime members. The symphony has three new violin players who are high school students, which Mega said greatly benefits the orchestra and provides a unique opportunity for students. Only six schools in the state have an orchestra program, all schools outside the Lakes Region.

The concerto competition was another way to get students more involved.

"We've been talking about it for years and to finally be able to pull it off was a good achievement for us," Mega said.

At the same time, the orchestra is honoring longtime members. Mega said the featured soloists are orchestra members who have been part of the symphony for many years.

"It's sort of just our way we can thank them for their longtime contributions to the orchestra," Mega said.

Mega said the musicians seemed excited to return after the pause between May and September when rehearsals began for the new season.

"I think in all honesty we have gotten better every season that we have performed, that I have been a member of at least," Mega said.

Audiences have also steadily grown as word gets out about the orchestra. Mega recalls when there were more musicians than people in the audience.

"We've really come a long way in terms of audience attendance, concert sponsors, partners of the arts," Mega said, saying the first concert had closer to 300 people.

Around 50 season tickets have been sold with most of the audience buying tickets for each show. The LRSO still wants to get the word out about its concerts and draw more people in.

"Out biggest challenge is getting the word out that we exist," Mega said. "We've been around for 35 years and it's still hard to get the word out about who we are and what we do. We work on a razor thin budget; most of our audience is a word of mouth."

Conductor Ben Greene has been involved with the symphony for 11 years, saying he first learned about it from Deborah Gibson, the band teacher at Laconia High School.

"She told me they were looking for a conductor, so I applied for the job," Greene said.

Greene was a music teacher in the Concord School District, conducting the orchestra at Concord High School. He has also conducted for the Manchester Youth Symphony.

"I love doing it, it's a great orchestra," Greene said. "We have musicians in the symphony from freshmen in high school to all the way well into their 70s and people do it because they love it."

Norma Marshall of Meredith has been playing with the orchestra since its inception. Marshall said she had played with some local musicians and at different schools and was asked to join as a trombone player. An abundance of trombonists and a lack of bass players lead to her playing the bass.

Marshall remembers when the Community Auditorium had not yet been built and performances were done on a stage set up in the Inter-Lakes High School gym.

"It's been a wonderful experience for me playing in the orchestra," Marshall said. "It gives me a wonderful opportunity to play some beautiful music and help keep music alive."

Marshall taught music for 37 years, starting in Arlington, Mass., and Warwick, R.I. She later taught in Danbury and New Hampton part time when she first started teaching and eventually taught at Inter-Lakes Elementary and High Schools.

This year Marshall gave up her seat as principal bass player for a regular seat in the bass section.

"It's a little bit too much for me, takes a little bit of the pressure off," she said.

The principal bass player is now Ed Judd, a teacher at Newfound Regional High School and whom Marshall said is a "fine bass player."

Marshall said she wants to continue playing with the symphony for as long as possible. She said the orchestra has a hard-working board as well as an excellent conductor. Marshall also said she knows a former concertmistress who is still playing at 93.

"It's a wonderful outlet; when you're playing music everything else is out of your head," Marshall said.

At the same time, she said she is happy to see more young people coming into the orchestra.

"I wish we had more coming in," Marshall said. "This orchestra also gives young people an opportunity to play with the symphony and to show their talent. For me it's exciting when I see a young person come in and perform. I guess that's the teacher in me."

Craig Weisman of Sanbornton is playing in the symphony for the first time. The trumpet player learned of the orchestra though fellow members of Lakes Region Big Band who were also in the LRSO.

"It was a great experience. I heard how wonderful they are and I hadn't played classical in a long time. This was a great challenge and fun to play," Weisman said.

Weisman said he has been playing trumpet for over 30 years, first taking it up in fourthgrade.

"It's a great hobby, it's a real passion," Weisman said.

The next concert will be the Holiday Pops on Dec. 11 and 12 with featured soloist Sureya Flechfrom Lakes Region Big Band. Mega said the holiday shows are a staple for the orchestra.

The concert in March will be "A Celebration of American Popular Music" featuring jazz standards, the "Great American Songbook," a big band salute, Broadway music, and tributes to the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Michael Jackson.

The season will close in May with a performance of Brahms' "Symphony No. 1" among other selections.

For more information on the Lakes Region Symphony Orchestra, visit http://www.lrso.org.

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