“Beethoven and Beyond” at ProMusica’s Open Rehearsal for Seniors

Long ago, two bow tie-wearing friends introduced me to ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. One encouraged me to lend my public relations skills to the committee planning the group’s annual fundraiser, Culinary Capers. The other was my companion for several concerts.

Through ProMusica, I made a friend in Jennifer Keefer, the orchestra’s former executive director. Both the same age, Jennifer and I spent several fun lunch hours in Short North and Downtown restaurants. I parted company with both bow-tied friends, Jennifer passed away suddenly in 2003, and ProMusica drifted off into the past.

This morning, I rekindled my appreciation for ProMusica when I joined my parents for one of ProMusica’s “Open Rehearsals for Seniors” at the historic Southern Theatre in downtown Columbus.

The Southern is the oldest surviving theatre in central Ohio. It opened in 1896 as part of a performance space and hotel complex on the corner of High and Main Streets. Although it was designed for theatrical touring productions, the Southern later was the setting for Vaudeville acts, silent films and motion pictures — some of which my great-grandmother took my grandfather to see when he was a boy, sitting in the uppermost balcony seats. Singer Lillian Russell, actors Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, dancers Anna Pavlova and Isadora Duncan, and John Philip Sousa are some of the celebrities who performed at the Southern. The theatre closed in 1979, but was restored by the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts and reopened in 1998. Today, the Southern is home to ProMusica, which has been offering unique musical and educational experiences for Central Ohioans since 1978.

One of ProMusica’s outreach initiatives is opening a rehearsal before each concert to senior citizens, at no charge. Sponsored by Bob Evans, the rehearsal allows attendees to see how the orchestra practices. Although the musicians might make frequent stops and starts during the program, it’s the same lineup that regular concertgoers enjoy.

“Beethoven & Beyond” is ProMusica’s concert this weekend. The guest artist is pianist William Wolfram, an award-winning recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician. A resident of New York City, Mr. Wolfram is a graduate of The Juilliard School, has performed with dozens of the finest orchestras in the world and has several recordings on the Naxos label.

Mr. Wolfram joined Conductor Timothy Russell and the orchestra for Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58. “The concerto was first performed in one of two private concerts held in March 1807 at the home of Prince Lobkowitz, one of Beethoven’s strongest supporters (and one of the three aristocrats who convinced him not to leave Vienna by promising him a lifetime pension to stay there and keep on composing),” Steven Ledbetter wrote in the program notes. The concerto was performed before a general audience on December 22, 1808 in the Theater-an-der-Wien. “Aside from the historical importance of the evening, it had personal significance to Beethoven as well: on account of his increasing deafness, it turned out to be the last time that he ever appeared before the public as a piano soloist,” Mr. Ledbetter continued.

After Mr. Wolfram left the stage, the musicians practiced Zoltán Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. We learned from Mr. Ledbetter that Kodály based this work on 18th-century Hungarian “recruiting dances” that were performed by a group of hussars and their sergeant to encourage spectators to enlist as soldiers in the imperial wars. The accompanying music was played by gypsy bands.

As the musicians took a break, we were treated to a snack in the lobby of juice and five different kinds of cookies. We chose white cranberry peach juice and almond-flavored sugar cookies drizzled with chocolate.

We returned to our seats to watch the musicians rehearse Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 “Scottish.” Lucky delegates from local schools that partner with ProMusica’s Musicians in the Schools program participated in the rehearsal of the piece, as they would be performing the symphony alongside the ProMusica musicians.

Reading Mr. Ledbetter’s program notes, we learned that on July 30, 1829, Felix Mendelssohn wrote to his family from Edinburgh, Scotland about the visit he and his friend, Karl Klingemann, an amateur poet and attaché at the German embassy in London, made to the palace of Holyrood, where Mary Queen of Scots had lived. Hearing the romantic tale of how the queen had become infatuated with an Italian lutenist named David Rizzio, and her husband had Rizzio murdered, Mendelssohn was inspired to write the opening bars of the melody of his Scotch Symphony. As I continued reading Mr. Ledbetter’s insights into Mendelssohn’s work, I thought about my own visit to Holyrood in 1983.

ProMusica performed “Beethoven & Beyond” today at 5:30 p.m. They will return to the Southern tomorrow for another concert at 7:00 p.m.

ProMusica’s next open rehearsal for seniors will be on Friday, April 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm at the Southern Theatre. You can stay for the entire two-and-a-half hour rehearsal or leave at the break. Seniors are encouraged to bring their friends, family, neighbors and grandchildren.

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