andrew kruse-ross | gbcivic | sept 2015
Formed in 1995 by a committee from St. Norbert College music facility, the Green Bay Civic Symphony is fast preparing for its 21st season, which kicks off on October 3rd at the Meyer Theatre. The 2015/2016 season offers something for everyone with an eclectic collection of material that balances the traditional with the contemporary and the serious with the light.
Now in her 11th year with the Civic Symphony, Conductor Seong-Kyung Graham is excited for the upcoming season, but says her goals haven't changed over the years. “Every year is special and every year I try to do my best to put together the best concerts for [our members] and the audience."
That task, according to Graham is getting easier, as she states there has been a vast improvement in the musicianship of the Civic Symphony, which is comprised of both volunteer and professional members. “They have come a long way," says Graham of Civic Symphony members, some of which are founding members. “We're playing better than ever."
Such growth has allowed Graham to program more challenging musical selections – such as Brahms' Symphony No. 3 – which appears in the Civic Symphony's first concert of the season.
Here's a look at the four concerts of the 2015/2016 season:
Concert I: Taking in the Autumn Breeze
Oct. 3, 2015 — 7:30 p.m.
The Green Bay Civic kicks off its 21st season with “October" by choral composer Eric Whitacre, arranged for orchestra. The performance will feature string orchestra and percussion. “I thought it was a beautiful selection," says Graham. “It's not a difficult one, but it sounds very pleasing and autumn-like, and for our October concert it's perfect."
Any ease of difficulty is compensated quickly with the second selection: Symphony No. 3 by Johannes Brahms. “This is the hardest music we'll be playing for the whole season," says Graham, who claims the German composer is difficult to digest, in part, due to unorthodox use of time signatures, which often have the strong beats falling in unusual places, making attempts to synch all the members of an orchestra problematic. “Everyone will have to know their parts so well, and know what's going on outside of their instrument to line up correctly.
“Brahms was one of the composers that very much wanted to be like Beethoven, but he would agonize over writing symphonies," says Graham. “He was so afraid that he would write something that wasn't good enough … [writing] his first symphony took him 20 years."
Unlike most symphonies that end on a thunderous loud note, Symphony No. 3 ends softly, and could leave an audience to question whether it was time to applaud or not. For this reason, the first concert will end with the more traditional Piano Concerto in F by George Gershwin and will feature piano soloist Michael Rector. Says Graham, “Gershwin is a fabulous musician and composer, he connects commercial, popular parts with serious music and mixes them so well. I know the audience is going to love the second half of this show!"
Concert II: A Symphonic Safari (Family Concert)
Nov. 6, 2015 — 7 p.m.
The second concert in the Civic Symphony's season offers the most family-friendly selections of the season in that the selections are shorter in duration and present the perfect opportunity to introduce youngsters to the symphony. Many area children will witness a condensed version of this show as part of a school field trip earlier in the day.
This year's Family Concert is animal-themed and will feature collaboration with the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, which will have members of their animal ambassadors present during part of the show. The first musical selection for this show will be Overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. “It's a comic story," says Graham, “it's very cute."
Also featured during this concert is the contemporary “And God Created Great Whales" by American composer Alan Hovhaness. The piece incorporates the recordings of humpback and bowhead whales into an orchestral arrangement. Graham says the piece “had great influence in raising conservation awareness" upon its creation in 1970.
Adding further interest to this concert is the even more recent “CATcerto" by Lithuanian composer Mindaugas Piecaitis. The piece was born when cat owners approached the composer about their piano-playing cat, Nora. Video footage of the performing cat has gone viral over the Internet and is used during the live performance by the orchestra.
Also performed during A Symphonic Safari will be the ever-popular “Peter and the Wolf" by Sergei Prokofiev and Movements from the “The Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-SaÃ«ns. Stu Smith will lend his voice to both pieces as narrator.
Concert III: Off to Hollywood
Feb. 20, 2016 — 7:30 p.m.
“Getting people outdoors in February is a challenge, so we've really tried to give something attractive to the audience," says Graham of the Green Bay Civic's third concert in the series – their first of 2016 – which will feature collaborations with two area organizations.
The Northeast Wisconsin Dance Organization will lend their talents to the performing of Ponchielli's “Dance of the Hours" from “La Gioconda," which contains both ensemble and solo dances throughout the performance. “We just love the choreographing with this music," says Graham.
Also featuring dance will be “Bolero" by Maurice Ravel. “'Bolero' starts with a very thin layer of instrumentation," says Graham, “and then adds more and more and at the end [includes] the full orchestra. From very simple things, Ravel has made very exciting music." Throughout the piece the snare drum remains constant in its beat, connecting the various musical “threads" together.
In keeping with a Hollywood theme, the ever-popular Knights on Broadway will return to the Green Bay Civic Symphony to perform a medley of show tunes from musicals that have gone on to be successful film productions. Highlights from “Annie," selections from “Les Misérables" and “Summer Nights" from “Grease" will be performed. Closing out the evening is George Gershwin's “An American in Paris," which like other selections from this concert enjoyed acclaim both as a musical and as a film.
Concert IV: A Requiem to Remember
April 17, 2016 — 3 p.m.
The season finale contains the fifth movement of Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz and Mozart's Requiem in D Minor.
For the finale, the Civic Symphony has sought the aid of area choral members to perform Mozart's Requiem in D Minor. Providing their talents will be area choral singers assembled from choir members of UWGB, UW-Fond du Lac and Marian University.
“Because the instrumentation for Mozart's requiem is so small, I wanted to have a piece with the full orchestra to go with it. That's why we're playing Symphonie Fantastique," says Graham, who states that to perform the entire Berlioz piece would be “quite challenging." As a result, Graham has selected the finale known as “Dream of the Night of the Sabbath."
“It's about a funeral," says Graham, “where all these monsters, sorcerers and witches come together."
The movement features a parody of the “Dies Irae" or “Day of Wrath," which is also present in Mozart's Requiem in D Minor, tying the two selected works together seamlessly. “We'll probably finish with Symphonie Fantastique. It's going to be an exciting concert."
About Seong-Kyung Graham
“When you're young you don't know what you want," recalls Graham.
Her mother loved music, and encouraged her four daughters to pursue musical endeavors, while Graham's brother was encouraged to pursue a career in the business sector. According to Graham, educational focus was gender specific in Korea at the time, “Men go into the business world; girls go into the arts."
Graham's father was a businessman, and although the family was not particularly wealthy, enough money was earned to allow for music instruction for the four daughters. Graham originally took up the piano and singing. In retrospect, she wishes she had taken up a string instrument as that knowledge would assist her in her work as a conductor, but it wasn't until later in life that she discovered that music would be a part of her life permanently.
“It took me a while to discover what I wanted to do with my life," says Graham, who describes herself as a “very average" student. “At least two of my sisters were very good students," says Graham with a smile. The other sister Graham affectionately says was “a bit of a troublemaker." She explains, “My mom thought she was going to piano lessons, but she was going to the comic book store instead." That sister would go on to receive a degree in cello performance and become a special needs educator.
The self-admitted “late bloomer," came to the United States to further her musical education. After receiving a degree in music from Sungshin Women's University in Seoul, Korea, she came to the US to further her studies in music, where she received her master's degree from the University of North Texas. “My mom wanted me to get a doctorate and return home and teach at a university and have a stable job," says Graham. “She wanted that for every kid and nobody did that," adds a laughing Graham.
But Graham did make the attempt, as she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life, she did what many do and stayed in school, enrolling in a doctorate program at the University of Illinois. It was here as a requirement she took an orchestral conducting class with a “wonderful teacher."
“That class turned my life upside down," says Graham. “Today, being a conductor is my life, but I didn't know I wanted to be a conductor until I was 30."
She claims that as a vocalist, nervousness was always a problem for her, but as a conductor any jitters disperse once she is on stage, leaving her in a euphoric state. She enjoys the responsibility placed on her as a conductor, and recognizes the opportunity the Civic Symphony has afforded her has allowed her to keep music at the center of her life.
Graham also lends her talents to future generations of musicians and is director of the Fox Valley Symphony Youth Organization in Appleton.
“Conducting is like being high without being drunk; it's a wonderful feeling that I would never trade."
Tickets for the Civic Symphony are available at gbcivic.org and can be purchased for the entire season or individual concerts.
To get involved with the Civic Symphony, either by becoming a donor, advertiser, volunteer or member, visit gbcivic.org.