Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s local, global outreach

Coordinated with Welcome Dayton, diverse offerings with Epic Journeys this weekend

By Pat Suarez

Photo: Composer and DPO Artist in Resident Stella Sung; photo: Jacque Brund

Human beings are the ultimate dichotomy. We are both generous and stingy. We sacrifice our goods and time, even our lives, and we withhold from those in need to their great peril. And we embrace strangers from our own country and foreign lands while we engage in xenophobia and extraordinary levels of hate. As this article goes to press, the United States of America may be as torn apart as at any time since the late 1960s. But healers exist and, as it has been since early humans first beat a stick against a rock and carved out a primitive flute, music is a powerful catalyst in the restorative process.

On Jan. 9 and 10, 2015, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and Welcome Dayton ( will present a concert titled Epic Journeys, which features three works written and performed by artists with disparate, international backgrounds. The overall theme of the concert will be the positive energy that talented people from several nations can bring to one and all.

According to their website, “Welcome Dayton is a community initiative that reflects our country’s core philosophy: people with diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences fuel our nation’s success. The Welcome Dayton effort promotes immigrant integration into the greater Dayton region by encouraging business and economic development; providing access to education, government, health and social services; ensuring equity in the justice system; and promoting an appreciation of arts and culture.”

In fact, the Dayton metropolitan area includes citizens from more than 100 countries, a true melting pot in a population of about one million people. In its brief four years of existence, Welcome Dayton’s accomplishments include “increasing positive community police relations, building community through the arts, supporting English language learners through additional academic and family programming, increasing access to City of Dayton services for limited English proficient residents, changing perceptions of immigrants through positive media coverage, and building awareness of existing immigrant friendly services offered throughout the private and public sectors.”

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra is offering free tickets to City of Dayton neighborhoods, particularly to Dayton’s new neighbors, those who have never been to the Schuster. It’s called Welcome Dayton Weekend. Complimentary tickets will be available to members of Dayton’s myriad cultural communities, with pick-up points in the Schuster Center Box office as well as at various locations and cultural centers around town.

“There are many people who live in the city that have never been to the Schuster,” explained Helen Garcia, DPAA patron and promotions manager. “With that in mind we will not be excluding anyone from getting free tickets and people can live in the Dayton area or region. If they hear about the ‘Welcome Dayton Weekend’ and want to come to one of the concerts they can order their tickets through the box office.”

“What we have found is that word of mouth is often the best way to get the word out to these immigrant communities,” Melissa Bertolo, Welcome Dayton Program Coordinator added.

Welcome Dayton, with the help of its two Fair Housing Mentors has taken this idea and run with it, connecting with area churches, community gathering spots and formal community organizations to make these communities aware of the Epic Journeys program.

The goal is to bring new people into the Schuster, perhaps to experience the Dayton Philharmonic for the first time.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to use music as a community building block,” Bertolo said. “[Epic Journeys is] this idea of building a community through art. Music is a common language and provides an opportunity to have shared experiences. ”

The three works from Epic Journeys provide the diversity, through music, that Welcome Dayton represents.

The concert opens with “Loco-Motion,” a tone poem by Stella Sung, a prolific and honored composer and pianist. Sung is a Florida native whose roots reach back to the Pacific Rim. Her compositions have been performed by orchestras in several countries, and she has won several awards for her writing.

“Loco-Motion” is a musical metaphor for a train. In her words, the piece was “inspired by the idea of a high-speed train and how the view of the outside world rapidly changes as the train speeds towards its destination point. The music constantly shifts in small increments and ‘chunks,’ and quickly changing rhythms and meters continually provide movement and motion.”

Few inventions are as fascinating as a locomotive and the 9,000 feet of cars that plunder along behind it, shaking the earth, clicking and clacking on imperfect rail seams. Other composers have used train metaphors, including Arthur Honegger in “Pacific 231” and Eric Whitacre in Ghost Train. “Loco-Motion” was a commission for the Dayton Philharmonic’s 2014-2015 season.

Max Bruch’s compositions bridged the 19th and 20th centuries. Bruch was a German who had great admiration for the Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. Bruch’s most enduring work was a “fantasy” (a concerto-like composition) in four movements based on Scottish folk tunes. Consider this: a German composing a violin fantasy for a Spaniard based on folk tunes from Scotland; Welcome Dayton would have smiled broadly at the notion.

Completed in 1880, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy opens with “Auld Rob Morris,” which is stately, glowing and as romantic as the period in which Bruch composed it. “The Dusty Miller” is jaunty, with the fiddler’s bow bouncing in a sprightly way against the violin. “I’m A’ Doun for Lack O’ Johnnie” returns to lyricism, with a melody that would melt the heart of the hardest curmudgeon. “Hey Tuttie Tatie” has toe-tapping vigor (take a quick glance at the feet of the concert patrons around you) spun together with romanticism that would have made Brahms proud. Scottish Fantasy might not be a concerto in the strictest sense, but it stands head and shoulders with any of the legendary concerti from that period.

The soloist for the Scottish Fantasy will be DPO concertmaster Jessica Hung. Ms. Hung is American born to Taiwanese parents. The international scope of this concert further broadens, again demonstrating music’s ability to be inclusive.

The customary stereotype of a concertmaster is a steel-haired, elegant man in his 50s. Jessica Hung dissolved that notion when she became the DPO’s concertmaster in 2008. Her talent and ability to correctly capture the mood and temperature of the music she performs far outstrips her age. Close your eyes while she plays and you hear someone with decades of sophistication and a billion notes from her bow. Open your eyes and you see someone who might be a year or two out from her master’s degree. When the DPO has been able to spare her, she has performed with orchestras in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Milwaukee, world class, all. The next time Maestro Gittleman schedules Scheherazade, fight to get a ticket.

Russian Dmitri Shostakovich casts a very long shadow over twentieth century classical music. While some Russian artists, most notably Igor Stravinksy, abandoned the Soviet Union, Shostakovich stayed home. Until the death of Josef Stalin, Shostakovich’s relationship with the Soviet government was as restless as his music.

Shostakovich was born on Sept. 25, 1906, to academically bright parents. His father, an engineer, excelled at physics and math. As a youngster, Shostakovich showed exceptional musical abilities, beginning his piano lessons at age 9, at a time when Russia was heading full-tilt into the revolution that changed the world. At 13, Shostakovich entered the Petrograd Conservatory. While his teachers steered him to Tchaikovsky and that peer group, Shostakovich preferred Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev, decidedly not 19th century composers. Although Stravinsky and Prokofiev influenced Shostakovich, his style, especially in his symphonies, was all his own, particularly in terms of a fuller orchestral sound.

Shostakovich made an auspicious debut into the symphonic world, at just 19, with what many consider the most accomplished first symphony by a young composer. Gustav Mahler’s first symphony could hold that distinction, but Mahler was nearly a decade older than Shostakovich when Mahler introduced the world to his D-major symphony.

In 1936, Mahler’s influence on Shostakovich became evident with Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. Strikingly similar to Mahler’s style, the Fourth found profound displeasure with the Soviet regime. Shostakovich was angry and hurt but showed his defiance in a brilliant move, his Fifth Symphony, which reflected, overtly, his disdain for those who praised it. Indeed, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is huge and gorgeous, but it’s the product of anger, not love.

Throughout World War II, Shostakovich expanded his symphonic literature, usually finding disfavor from a disappointed and disgruntled Soviet government: their star composer was incorrigible and stubborn, but they endured him and the music he gave to the world.

Then, in the spring of 1953, Josef Stalin, one of Shostakovich’s tormentors (and a sizeable one, at that) died. As a thumb in Stalin’s proverbial eye, Shostakovich wrote his Tenth Symphony, a sprawling, four-movement work that spans nearly an hour and has elements of, you guessed it, Mahler. It is this magnificent symphony with which Neal Gittleman closes Epic Journeys.

The Shostakovich Tenth is itself an epic journey. Opening with a flowing, dark string introduction (think the opening of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, the first movement, Moderato, is the longest of the tenth’s four movements. Shostakovich was a grand master at combining lyricism with tension, and this movement is practically his Ph.D. It is, at once, beautiful and menacing. A haunting wind solo will morph into massed string melodies that will have you looking over your shoulder. This movement is one of those works where even the most impressive recording is helpless against a live performance. Its sound space pulls you forward, anticipating what might come next: at times intimate, like a large chamber work, and then with the full fury of nearly fourscore stage musicians.

In contrast to the slow first movement, the Allegro that follows is a fortissimo runaway locomotive, with staccato to spare. Of all of the works that Neal Gittleman has led over the years, this movement will challenge the DPO’s formidable virtuosity. Its heart-pounding pace and layered wind writing will have listeners silently mouthing the word “wow.”

Gustav Mahler makes his presence known in the Allegretto that follows. The music is all Shostakovich, of course, but the sound and feeling are of that diminutive, bespectacled, stern composer-conductor. In the midst of the Allegretto, Shostakovich gives the audience some of his most moving music, again with an unsettling undercurrent. Perhaps no other composer was as gifted at this musical device.

The finale, marked Andante-Allegro, begins as the first did: slowly, with gray skies punctuated by sunshine, building anticipation, which is rewarded with another break-neck paced rush to the final pages of the score.

Neal Gittleman has a most rare affinity for the symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich. His performance of the Eleventh Symphony was one that rivaled any orchestra, on any stage. If you were at the Schuster Center, you surely remember it. These performances of the Tenth Symphony will continue that legacy and are not to be missed.

The Shostakovich Tenth ends on such a powerful, positive note, the villain vanquished, that one hopes that the world-view anchoring Epic Journeys will lead to inclusion, to enlightenment and to acceptance of our fellow human beings. We are a world of different people and, as music shows, it can be an exciting and uplifting world when we are all brought together.

We asked Neal Gittleman some questions about the healing power of music and Dmitri Shostakovich:

What is your fondest memory of music bringing people together?

My most vivid memory of music bringing people together has to be the DPO’s first classical concert in September 2001. It was less than two weeks after the September 11 attacks, and for everyone, I think, it was their first big, out-in-public event. The sense of togetherness and energy of the musicians and the audience at that concert was pretty amazing. And the audience’s response to the music, from the “Star-Spangled Banner” to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, was nothing short of cathartic. It was the music. But it was also being together and having a shared experience. – Neal Gittleman

Shostakovich seems to bring something extraordinary out in you. What is it about his music that inspires you?

The emotional power, the tragic undertones and also the sense that his music meant so much to so many people living in the Soviet Union at that time. Shostakovich’s music was, in a very real sense, the voice of the voiceless. – NG

Is there anything special you do in rehearsal to prepare the DPO for the incredibly fast pace of the second movement of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony?

We play it under-tempo first! Then we work it up to full speed. – NG

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present Epic Journeys on Friday, Jan. 9 and Saturday, Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. A pre-show “Take Note” will take place at 7 p.m. on both nights. For tickets and more information, please visit For more information about Welcome Dayton, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Pat Suarez at PatSuarez

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Pat Suarez has been involved with a wide variety of music for nearly five decades. He has hosted music programming on FM radio and produced and hosted the radio broadcasts of two symphony orchestras. His articles about music have been published extensively in print and online. Reach him at

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