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Genesee Symphony Orchestra

Genesee Symphony Orchestra postpones May 5 concert to next season

By Howard B. Owens

Due to scheduling conflicts among musicians, the Genesee Symphony Orchestra's final concert of the season has been rescheduled for the 2024-25 season.

Season ticket and Flex ticket holders can use their current tickets for the rescheduled concert. 

The original date of the concert was May 5, and it was built on the theme "American Pictures."  It was going to feature the works of composers from the United States such as Aaron Copeland, William Grant Still, and Florence Beatrice Price. 

Photo: GSO's Young Artist Competition held on Saturday

By Howard B. Owens
Photo by Howard Owens

The Genesee Symphony Orchestra held its annual young artists' competition on Saturday at Batavia First Presbyterian Church.

On hand as judges were board members and Musical Director S. Shade Zajac. 

The winners will be announced prior to the 2024-25 season and be featured soloists in the winter concert.  There were a half-dozen entrants this year, including 14-year-old Tristan Zhang, pictured, from Pittsford, whom Howard Sounder accompanied.

Batavia native follows path of mentor, teaching music and leading GSO

By Howard B. Owens
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Melzie Case, a member of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra and president of the board of directors.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Music has been a big part of Melzie Case's life since she was four years old when she first started piano lessons at Roxy's Music Store.

Along the way, she's had teachers and mentors to guide her, and one of the most important was Roxie Choate, the former president of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, herself a retired teacher, who died in October.

Case, who first served on the GSO board as a high school student, has stepped in to lead the GSO.

"Roxie was a passionate and unabashedly determined leader," Case said. "Under her guidance, I learned how to positively steer the GSO Board and how to be a leader in music ministry. We connected and bonded over music, from appreciating classical music to playing piano and organ duets together, and forged a seemingly unlikely friendship through our love for music in the community. Her influence continues to serve me well on a daily basis."

In addition to working together on the GSO board for a number of years, Choate and Case became well acquainted with one another musically at the Batavia First Presbyterian Church, where Coate was an organist, and Case played piano.

Coate had been a music teacher in Oakfield-Alabama. After graduating from Batavia High School, she earned a degree in music education from Buffalo State University.  The 30-year-old Case is now a music teacher at Batavia Middle School.

Her musical journey has prepared her well for both roles.  Starting with those piano lessons at Roxy's Music, she participated in musical theater as a child, was a member of the chorus in middle school and high school, and along the way, she became a percussionist to go along with singing, playing the piano, and organ. She first joined the GSO as a percussionist while still a teen, and then Choate asked her to be a student rep on the GSO board.  Following a break for college, Case rejoined the orchestra and the board as she wrapped up her education in 2016.

"I like GSO because you meet so many people in the community, people from all ages and backgrounds. That is what really drew me in," Case said. 

The orchestra, she said, is comprised of “local folks, people from surrounding counties, music teachers and people with jobs outside of music.  It’s such a wonderful group of people. We have a wonderful time rehearsing together and putting on concerts together.”

Obviously, Case is passionate about music.  She thinks music helps bring people together.

"Music has a unique way of connecting people like nothing else. Music is healing, exciting, joyful, engaging," Case said. "I see every day the impact that music has on people of all ages and how it is a creative outlet in so many ways. Music is a part of nearly every moment of my day, whether I’m singing, playing, teaching, or listening."

One reason GSO has thrived in recent years is the leadership of music director and conductor S. Shade Zajac, Case said.

“I enjoy working with Shade," Case said. "The whole board does. We appreciate that he comes to board meetings when he can or gets on a call with us and that he brainstorms with us about concerts. We really have a great time working with him. He has a great vision when it comes time to select repertoire. The music he picks pushes us all as musicians, and we feel grateful to have him at the helm.”

As president of the board, Case, of course, has a role in ensuring the GSO continues to build on its success, and she that can happen through collaboration with other arts groups in the community and making connections with young people who are interested in music.

Entertaining programs, such as the one Zajac has programmed for Saturday at GCC, will also help garner growing support for the orchestra.

"The program is a blend of emotions," Case said. "There are some familiar pieces and some new ones that people will enjoy."

One of the new pieces is a composition by Paul McCartney.  Yes, the former Beatle writes more than pop songs.  He has composed a number of classical pieces, including Spiral, which the GSO will perform at the concert.

"I'm a huge Beatles fan, so I'm excited to play one of Paul McCartney's lesser-known works," Case said.

The rest of the program is comprised of pieces by other English composers, as Vaughn-Williams and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

The anchor piece of the program is Elgar's “Enigma Variations.” 

"It's one of my favorite pieces in the entire literature," Zajac told The Batavian at the start of the season. "It's a very special piece. I've conducted only one movement from it (previously). It's a remarkable piece of music. Every note and every bar sounds like English music, which is incredible because you can trace every note to some other composer. You can hear the influences of Beethoven and Bach and Wagner. But somehow, he makes it all sound like English music."

Choate is, as they say in show business, a tough act to follow, Case acknowledged.  She led the board. She often handled concert publicity. She was also the personnel manager.

"Roxie did so much.  We find things all the time we didn’t even know about," Case said. "As a board, we say all the time, 'Oh, Roxie did that, and she did this, and she did that.' She was a huge advocate for GSO and for music education.

The GSO, with what it has achieved and how it can yet grow, will carry on because of a lot of people over the past eight decades, but Choate certainly contributed to GSO's success.

"I have so much pride in GSO," Case said. "We have a professional orchestra right here in Batavia. We can offer to our community that experience. You can go to Buffalo and Rochester and hear those orchestras, or you can stay right here in Batavia and hear a professional orchestra."

The GSO concert on Saturday at GCC begins at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors, and students with an ID can get in for free.

Photos by Howard Owens.

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GSO ready to perform holiday favorites at GCC on Sunday

By Howard B. Owens
genesee symphony orchestra holiday rehersal 2023
Genesee Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Julia Plato.
Photo by Howard Owens

It's that time of year when the Genesee Symphony Orchestra rosins up the bows and gets crackin' on holiday chestnuts such as “Christmas Festival,” “Sleigh Ride” and selections from “The Nutcracker.”

The annual holiday concert is at 4 p.m., Sunday, at Genesee Community College.

GSO's concertmaster, Julia Plato, is looking forward to taking the solo on another holiday favorite, the winter movement from Vivaldi's “Four Seasons.”

She's excited about it, she said, because "I think it's insanely easy to make it sound modern, even though it was written through like 300 years ago. It still has so much excitement and vigor and, yeah, personality that you would never know that it was written in the 1700s."

Plato, who is originally from the Hershey area of Pennsylvania, is in her second year as the first chair of the GSO, under the direction of conductor S. Shade Zajac.

She's been involved in orchestra performance since she was a child, participating in the youth orchestra in her hometown.

"That's kind of where I fell in love with playing music," she said.  "I went to school for music education in Ithaca and wound up teaching in Pittsford."

Through a friend, she heard about GSO during the pandemic, when the orchestra was still finding ways to perform, and that piqued her interest.

"I was so excited because I just wanted to have a group to play with, and it just lined up really well with the time that I moved to the area, and I found a good group of people to perform with," she said.

She's found it inspiring to work with Zajac.

"He has got such a great taste and repertoire," she said. "He selects very nice, well-rounded programming from all the modern works that you may not have heard to the classics that everyone hopes to hear."

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Genesee Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor S. Shade Zajac
Photo by Howard Owens.
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Photo by Howard Owens.
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Photo by Howard Owens.
genesee symphony orchestra holiday rehersal 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.
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Photo by Howard Owens.
genesee symphony orchestra holiday rehersal 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.
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Photo by Howard Owens.
genesee symphony orchestra holiday rehersal 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.
genesee symphony orchestra holiday rehersal 2023
Photo by Howard Owens.

GCC Foundation to present Encore 2023 'White Christmas' Dec. 15

By Press Release

Press Release:

On Friday, Dec. 15 at 5 p.m. Genesee Community College Foundation will welcome all guests to its annual Encore Celebration. This year's event theme, "White Christmas," inspired by the 1954 classic film, will capture the essence of the holiday season and features a special holiday concert program choreographed by the Genesee Symphony Orchestra.

Encore has a distinctive 30-year tradition and all proceeds from the event directly support student scholarships at Genesee Community College. The College is pleased to announce the return of our Presenting Sponsor, Tompkins Financial Corporation, to Encore 2023. 

"Tompkins' banking, insurance, and wealth teams are proud to once again partner with GCC in support of the people and community we serve here in western New York," said David Boyce, President & CEO, of Tompkins Insurance Agencies.

There are several opportunities remaining to sponsor the Encore event. These sponsorships are critically important to the scholarships GCC provides its students and are available at several levels this year:

  • Table Sponsor: $1,500
  • Conductor's Circle: $1,000
  • Golden Baton Society: $600
  • Inner Circle: $300
  • Individual Platinum Patron Ticket: $100

Help make a difference and make your reservations today at or contact the Foundation Office at (585) 345-6809.

For more information contact Justin Johnston, Vice President, Development and External Affairs at (585) 345-6809, or via email:

Friends reflect on 'integral' member of musical community

By Joanne Beck
Roxie Choate
Roxanne "Roxie" Choate

Generosity — of her time, friendship, possessions, and passion for music, life, and all creatures — is something that Roxanne “Roxie” Choate will be remembered for by her friends, family, and fellow choir members, they say.

A music teacher at Oakfield-Alabama school, president of Genesee Symphony Orchestra, choir director and bell choir member, and organist at Batavia First Presbyterian Church for many years, Choate became a fixture to many for her connections to the notes on the page and the songs in the air. She died on Oct. 5 at Le Roy Village Green Nursing Home.

“Roxie loved music and loved to share it with others. She had the gift of discovering talent and connecting people to choirs or musical groups. Many of our music leaders in the church today were mentored by Roxie,” the Rev. Roula Alkhouri of Batavia First Presbyterian said. “I loved watching the friendship she had with Melzie Case, our organist/choir director. The music was what brought them together, but their friendship grew deep. We are so grateful to have Melzie, but without Roxie, it would not have been possible.

"The same is true of Cheri Kolb. Roxie was the connection for Cheri to our church,” Alkhouri said. “The Bell Choir is something that she started in our church as well.”

Alkhouri also noted Choate’s tremendous generosity when it came to her time, talent, and resources. She had an apparent green thumb and was also skilled in the culinary world. 

“Every summer I got tomatoes and other goodies from her garden. Every Christmas, I received a beautiful wreath for our home to put on our door. I got to taste many of her wonderful meals as she often shared them with me,” Alkhouri said. “Every year she spent a lot of time and effort thinking about the Christmas gifts she was going to give to the members of her bell choir. She would get so excited about the selection. One year, she found beautiful ornaments that were quite expensive and bought only a few of them at a time until she was ready to share them by Christmas. Roxie was also generous with her time and energy. She volunteered for anything that was needed at church, even for jobs she didn’t necessarily enjoy. Her spirit of service was exemplary.”

Melzie Case met Choate several years ago when in the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, where she developed a friendship with someone who was an “advocate, leader, and volunteer in the GSO for numerous years,” and also served as Board president, vice president, personnel manager, ad book co-chair, string workshop coordinator and helped to organize the first Summer Serenade events, “in addition to performing countless tasks behind the scenes that have helped the GSO to thrive.”

“She was integral in virtually every aspect of the orchestra’s operations and I believe the GSO is successful today because of her work and contributions,” Case said. “I first met Roxie in 2009 when I became involved with the GSO as a high school student, and we worked closely together on the Board over the years. In 2019 Roxie asked me to accompany the choir at the Batavia First Presbyterian Church where I also enjoyed playing piano and organ duets with her. Whether it was a phone call about the orchestra or a choir rehearsal, we shared many laughs and the joy of making music over the years. 

“Roxie, a music educator, was passionate about bringing music to the community,” Case said. “She was a friend in music to me and so many others, and her impact will be felt for years to come.” 

Paul Saskowski worked with Choate on the GSO board about eight years ago and recalled how she covered many positions at the time.

“And (she) would tirelessly work for the GSO. We worked as co-presidents through the process to hire Shade,” Saskowski said. “She was dedicated and relentless.”

Sarah Wahl and Sherry Mosher shared how tenacious Choate was when it came to leading the bell choir. She took on that role in 2009, and passed along “to all of us handbell ringers her passion for precision and excellence,” Mosher shared on behalf of her and Wahl.

“Many of us wondered how she was able to detect a wrong bell was played when five bells played a chord. ‘Someone picked up the wrong bell; that was supposed to be a B flat,’ she would promptly say. Either no one admitted to it or you would hear a loud ‘Oh no, how could she possibly catch that.’ We became performance-ready in no time thanks to her leadership,"  Mosher said.

The bell choir performed at the Holland Land Office Museum, the VA, and Genesee County Nursing Home (now Premier) and for many worship services at the church.  The season was capped off when “Roxie graciously hosted a wonderful party for the ringers and spouses at her and Mike's beautiful home,” she said.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though Choate’s leadership did come with a sense of humor, Mosher said. She answered the call to lead the First Presbyterian Church Sanctuary Choir when a director was needed and never held back from selecting challenging anthems.

“More than once, after one or two go-arounds on a new song, many of us questioned whether we could ever learn the song. In fact, the first whirl on one song with multiple key changes and back-and-forth repeats, we ended up in a loud outburst of laughter,” Mosher said. “However, with Roxie's persistence and direction,  we learned it and performed it very well. No doubt, Roxie passed along to us her love of music, pride, and performance perfectionism. For all FPC Handbell Ringers and Choir members alike, we all miss Roxie and deeply value our years of friendship, leadership, and her passion for music.”

As much as she loved music, Choate also had a deep faith and loved God, Jesus, and the church, Alkhouri said.  For Mother’s Day each year, the gift she asked for was to have her whole family go to church with her. 

“Even during her recent illness, Roxie never waivered in her trust in God’s care for her. She was not afraid because she knew and felt the love of God,” Alkhouri said. “Roxie loved her family so much. I would often get to hear the love in her voice as she spoke about her children and their family. She was an amazing mother, grandmother, and a great-grandmother.

“Roxie was such a great example of strength. She faced all the challenges of life with a sense of commitment to the common good no matter what she was facing. Until the middle of June, Roxie was always on the go and was involved in so many community activities, even as she cared for her husband,” Alkhouri said. “She inspired me in times of hardship. During the pandemic, Roxie was also willing to adapt and change to meet the music needs of the church.” 

A truism about Choate was that “once you became Roxie’s friend, you became a friend for life,” Alhouri said. That was true even for the cherished kitties under her care. 

“Roxie has had a huge impact on my life and the lives of many. I know that I am a better person because of knowing Roxie and having her as my friend,” Alkhouri said. “What a blessing to have had her in my life and as part of our community.”

GSO's musical director balances what audiences know and what is unfamiliar in planning new season

By Howard B. Owens
Shade Zajac 2019 file photo
S. Shade Zajac conducting the Genesee Symphony Orchestra during a rehearsal in 2018.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Audiences can be unpredictable, suggested Genesee Symphony Orchestra Music Director S. Shade Zajac while discussing how he's programmed the 2023-24 season and especially the season's opening show next Sunday, Oct. 22.

"Sometimes you think something is really going to connect with people, and it receives a lukewarm reaction," Zajac told The Batavian. "And sometimes you think, oh, boy, this is going to be tough for people to grasp, and then they go wild for it. You never really know."

The lineup for the opener for next Sunday's concert:

  • Romanian Dances, by Béla Bartók
  • Háry János Suite, by Zoltán Kodály
  • Trail of Tears Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra, by Michael Dougherty
  • Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A Major, by George Enesco

Zajac thinks audience members will find the music of the concert both challenging -- because some of the selections might be unfamiliar to many people -- or engaging -- either because of the dynamics or sheer beauty of the selections. 

"I'm always trying to bring things that the audience really will connect to and also maybe give them something a little new," Zajac said.

The program selection is built around the Trail of Tears Concerto, which will feature Rebecca Gilbert, principal flutist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

Composed by Dougherty in 1989, the piece commemorated the 150th anniversary of the forced march in 1838-39 of Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws and the Seminoles off their land in the Southeastern U.S. more than 1,500 miles to what is now part of Oklahoma.

"It's a very, very interesting piece," Zajac said. "It's got some really beautiful and emotional moments in it. And it's got some unbelievable virtuosic playing for the solo flute. He (Dougherty) asks her to do a lot of different kinds of techniques to sound like a traditional Native American flute, so what we call breath tones and pitch bends and slides. It sounds very, very authentic, ethnic, which then kind of ties the rest of the program together."

The ethenic theme of the program is set up by the Bartók and Kodály (pronounced co-die) pieces.  Both Bartók and Kodály were composers, but they were also ethnomusicologists, perhaps the first ethnomusicologists, something that wasn't really possible before the invention of machines that record voices and music. They both traveled to Transylvania with a Thomas Edison invention, a wax cylinder recorder and recorded the music of the towns and villages in that part of Romania. They then incorporated the unique musical elements of those songs into their own compositions.

"The Kodály is a really wild piece of music," Zajac said. "Again, I've never conducted it before. And it calls for a very large orchestra, I think, like six trumpets and a smattering of percussion. We're just we're having tons of fun doing it. And it's a very colorful, colorful piece of music."

The final piece of the program returns to a Romanian setting. 

Enescu, born in Romania in 1881, building his fame as a composer in the early 20th Century, was often compared to Mozart.  This piece was composed in 1901 and is perhaps his most famous work.

"It's really virtuosic and showy for the orchestra features a lot of people," Zajac said. "After our last two seasons with the 75th season, which was two seasons ago, and then last season, you know, doing all this Brahms and all this heavy dramatic music, I kind of wanted to go in a completely different direction. When you finish a monumental project like that, you're like, 'Okay, what do we do next?' And this seemed like a different way to go. And the orchestra is really enjoying it. I think the audience will really like this program."

Earlier in the conversation, discussing the challenges of selecting pieces for an orchestra concert, Zajac compared some pieces of music to "comfort food."

"It is called comfort food for a reason because, you know, mom's chicken pot pies always gonna taste good," Zajac said. "So if she asked someone what they want to eat, they're gonna say, chicken pot pie. It's scarier to go out and try something new. You're gonna take a chance. There's a chance you really like it, and you find something that you really like, and there's a chance that this is going to be terrible. And now you feel like you've just wasted dinner. So I think there's a human need to feel comfort. I know how this is gonna go. I'm not going to be surprised."

Zajac said comfort food on a program helps the less familiar pieces go down a little easier for audiences.

“Romanian Rhapsody” is perhaps the comfort food on the first program, Zajac said.

"Whether or not you know, if you sit down and you listen to this piece, there is no way, if we do our job, and the GSO always does its job, there's no way you're gonna be in your seat because it's just, it's one of those pieces. It's a showpiece. There's fireworks and fast playing and all sorts of things. So that's probably the comfort food, but the Bartok and the Kodály, even though they may be unfamiliar, they're just excellent pieces of music, and they're wild."

After Sunday's concert, the GSO has five more performances this season -- three concerts as part of its regular season and a performance at the GCC Foundation's annual Encore event.

The holiday concert will, of course, include the ultimate in comfort foods, "Sleigh Ride," by Leroy Anderson. 

The program will also feature a solo by GSO's concertmaster, Julia Plato, on the winter movement of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

"She's a wonderful, wonderful leader and an excellent musician, so we're excited to feature her," Zajack said.

The Dec. 15 Encore event will also be filled with holiday music but not all the same pieces as the GSO's annual Holiday Concert.

In February, the GSO's theme turns British, with English composers being featured, including Sir Paul McCartney.  The former Beatle has written -- even some of his biggest fans aren't aware of this -- a number of classical pieces.

Zajac predicts his mom will especially like the concert.

"My mom is like the world's biggest Paul McCartney fan," Zajac said. "I know every fan says that they're the biggest Paul McCartney fan. My mom is like the biggest Paul McCartney fan. In fact, when she met my father, she goes, 'Well, just so you know, there is one other man, and that man is Paul McCartney.'"

The anchor piece of the program is Elgar's “Enigma Variations.” 

"It's one of my favorite pieces in the entire literature," Zajac said. "It's a very special piece. I've conducted only one movement from it (previously). It's a remarkable piece of music. Every note, every bar sounds like English music, which is incredible because you can trace every note to some other composer. You can hear the influences of Beethoven and Bach and Wagner. But somehow, he makes it all sound like English music."

The GSO will close out the season with a concert comprised entirely of works by American composers.

"I'm a sucker for American music," Zajac said. "I wish we did more American music here in America, aside from, you know, Copeland, and there's nothing wrong with Copeland. Indeed, we're doing Copeland's Appalachian Spring, which is a great piece of music, but there's so many other things.”

The program will include pieces by David Diamond, a contemporary of Copeland's, and is from Rochester, along with an often overlooked black female composer, Florence Beatrice Price.

"Her music has been enjoying a revival these days," Zajac said. "A lot of people have been doing her first symphony and those big pieces. I decided to program this little piece called Dances in the Canebrakes. It's just really fun, beautiful. It just reeks of America. You hear it, and it's like, yes, that is an American sound."

Also on the program is William Grant Still, another black American composer with ties to Rochester. The orchestra will perform “Summerland.”

And just like an American program probably must include Copeland, it will also include Gershwin's Piano Concerto, featuring the winner of GSO's Young Artists competition.

Perhaps the most familiar piece on the program is Appalachian Spring.

"I've never had a chance to do the piece before though I've known it for many years," Zajac said. "I've studied it. The orchestra hasn't played it in a very long time. It's a beautiful piece, and it ends quietly. Sometimes I like to end programs quietly. It's great to end with fireworks and huge standing ovations and sometimes it is really meaningful and really poignant to end a concert quietly, and indeed ending the season quietly."

That ending, Zajac said, will be a tribute to Roxanne Choate, the former GSO board president who passed away this past week at age 80.

On the topic of performing American composers, The Batavian asked Zajac if he would consider Duke Ellington. 

"I've been thinking about doing a jazz-inspired program at some point because there's some really great pieces," Zajac said. "Of course, there's Gershwin, An American in Paris. I'd love to do it with the orchestra. I've only gotten to do the piece once. But Duke Ellington, I'm so glad you said something because I know there are things that we can do, but I haven't really thought about him. That might be an excellent addition if I ever get around to doing this program. That would be really cool."

All of GCC's concerts this season are at GCC:

  • Sunday, Oct. 22, 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, Dec. 3, 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 10th, 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 5, 4 p.m.

United Way hosts summer serenade with Genesee Symphony Orchestra

By Press Release
File photo from 2018 of Summer Serenade rehearsal.

Press Release:

United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes will once again present, Summer Serenade, featuring the Genesee Symphony Orchestra.

The Serenade will take place on Saturday, September 9, at Terry Hills Golf Course and Banquet Facility, beginning at 5 p.m. The event will feature hearty hors d’oeuvres, a concert by the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, and desserts. A cash bar will be available. 

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Genesee Symphony Orchestra and United Way’s Backpack Program in Genesee County.

United Way’s Backpack Program provides easy-to-make meals for school-aged children in need throughout Genesee County. Currently, the program is supplying over 700 monthly meals to children throughout four school districts.

The Genesee Symphony Orchestra is a dynamic, regional orchestra that presents an ambitious portfolio of concerts for the enrichment of our community through high-quality performances, educational opportunities, guest artists, and partnerships.

Tickets for the Serenade are $50 and can be purchased through any Genesee Symphony Orchestra Board Member, Lawley Insurance in Batavia, or online at

Sponsored Post: Genesee Symphony Orchestra presents a performance of Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra! Get your tickets today

By Lisa Ace

On April 1st at 7:00pm at the Elba High School, the Genesee Symphony Orchestra with Conductor S. Shade Zajac will be joined by world renowned soloists YooJin Jang (violin) and Mimi Hwang (cello) for a performance of Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra. This performance will mark the completion of a gigantic project started during Mr. Zajac’s first season with the GSO: performing all of the Concertos composed by Brahms. The concert will also include the emotional and exhilarating Fourth Symphony in D Minor by Robert Schumann. Please join the Orchestra for this monumental milestone! Click here to purchase your tickets now!

GSO promises a holiday gift of music Sunday

By Joanne Beck


Not naming all of the musical line-up ahead of time is not to be punitive, says conductor S. Shade Zajac.

But rather, it’s similar to how Christmas operates: there’s usually an element of surprise by not opening the gift until it’s time.

“The idea was, normally, we put all the pieces we're playing on the poster, or at least most of them, so people kind of know what to expect. But you know, I've been thinking that it's, it's really easy sometimes to fall into the trap of just doing the same things over and over again, especially for holiday concerts,” Zajac said about his orchestra’s upcoming concert. “And, you know, it'll just have to wait until Sunday when you come to the concert to see or to hear exactly what we're doing, just so that there's a little bit of mystery, kind of like getting a gift or something you can't open until the day of. ”

The gift of Genesee Symphony Orchestra’s Symphonic Holiday Surprise will be opened at 4 p.m. Sunday at Genesee Community College, 1 College Road, Batavia.

To be sure, there will be plenty of holiday favorites tucked into some new, and perhaps less familiar songs, he said. Zajac, now in his seventh season with GSO, takes his time to develop a concert menu and does so well in advance.

“I’m always looking ahead to what’s next, logistically and practically. We start planning things now for next year, especially when working with soloists,” he said, adding that next year’s soloist has been booked since 2020.

“There are a lot of different holiday pieces with different arrangements of the same piece. So, it always makes things a little difficult. I had this realization this is my seventh season. And I try to always change it up a little bit each year,” he said. “We are always exploring different music and sometimes in different avenues, and always wanting to bring a new experience and bring pieces that people haven't maybe heard before, or maybe the orchestra hasn't played before.”


After asking the orchestra how many have played a particular piece that he was considering, only a few hands went up, which meant the number would not only introduce a new melody to patrons but also create a challenge for versed musicians.

And they have earned it.

“I just feel us getting better and better. I can certainly feel it, and I know the orchestra is starting to feel it as well,” he said. “There are so many things I still want us to do together. This orchestra really has a special place in my heart.”

Zajac continues to strengthen his own professional chops by performing with other groups and, for a week in January, working with Baltimore Orchestra.

This concert also features a promising violinist, Hilton High School senior Luke Pisani, recipient of GSO’s Young Artist Competition award, among many others.

Pisani, whose LinkedIn account states that he is a motivated, straight-A student who demonstrates a strong work ethic and creative ability, put that hard work on display for the competition, Zajac said. Pisani had competed previously, and, although he did not win that time, his musical prowess was a teaser of what was to come.

When Zajac heard him this time around, he couldn’t believe it was the same person playing.

“Some years, it’s really, really challenging to pick a winner, the talent is so vast. And some years you have someone who comes in, and that’s it,” he said. “He blew us all away; he stood out from the rest of the competition. The Concerto (for violin and orchestra in D major) is a very well-known, very challenging piece of music. He's playing the first movement, and so our audience will absolutely recognize some of the tunes and will just be blown away by his playing, I'm sure.”

Pisani also won competitions with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Chicago Violin, Hochstein Youth Symphony Orchestra, Finger Lakes Symphony Orchestra and the Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music. His versatility spreads over to jazz piano, basketball and serving at his church. His list of accomplishments is quite lengthy, and his performance for the GSO competition demonstrated that his “amount of growth is incredible,” Zajac said,

“He is very technically advanced, you have to be to be playing Tchaikovsky,” he said. “He has that little something extra that makes people pay attention. And that's, of course, something that we look for in these competitions. A lot of people can play the notes. And then there are people who can actually play the music and just kind of give it that little extra something that grabs your attention. And he did that for us, and we were engaged his entire audition.”

As for the remaining concert, there will be “plenty of holiday cheer,” Zajac said. It will include works by Tchaikovsky, Anderson, Rimsky Korsakov and Vaughan Williams.

“Of course, there's holiday favorites that everyone loves that I'm sure we'll be playing. And maybe a couple of other little pieces that people wouldn't expect," he said.

Click HERE for a sample of Pisani on violin.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, and free for students with an ID, and are available at YNGodess, Holland Land Office Museum, The Coffee Press, from any board member or at GSO






Top Photo: Conductor S. Shade Zajac leads the Genesee Symphony Orchestra through rehearsal for its upcoming holiday concert. Photos by Howard Owens.

Children in Oakfield learn about making music from members of GSO

By Howard B. Owens


Members of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra were in Oakfield on Thursday evening to talk with children about the instruments they play and how music is made.

The orchestra members, along with conductor and music director Shade Zajac, explained their instruments, the sounds they made, playing examples, and how the instruments are played and how they might fit into a piece of music.

Participating were Holly Hudson, Nicole Zajac (top photo), Shade Zajac, and Claudia Deibold.

The event was sponsored by the Haxton Memorial Library and held at the Oakfield Government and Community Center.



Musical lessons from GSO next week in Oakfield

By Joanne Beck


File Photo of Conductor Shade Zajac during a rehearsal with Genesee Symphony Orchestra.

There will be no shushing at Haxton Memorial Library next week when members of Genesee Symphony Orchestra, including Conductor Shade Zajac, provide demonstrations for families, Roxie Choate says.

Funded by GO Art! Reach grant money, the library will be hosting musicians from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Oakfield Government and Community Center, 3219 Drake St., Oakfield.

Orchestra members will be showing and talking about their instruments individually, and also playing together for this special hour, said Choate, the orchestra manager. They will introduce strings, woodwinds and brass instruments.

“In hopes of creating increased knowledge and understanding of the importance of bringing orchestra music alive within our young people’s lives,” she said to The Batavian.

This event is open to all children ages 7 and older, and their parents. Attendees are asked to arrive by 6:50 p.m. in preparation for the program, she said.

Genesee Symphony Orchestra is in residence at Genesee Community College, and has a tradition of having “a very strong educational mission in giving experiences in learning about orchestra music,” Choate said.

Consider this a warm-up for the group’s first of a five-concert season. The first concert will feature “a beautiful harp concerto,” Choate said, and is set for 4 p.m. Oct. 9 at Stuart Steiner Theater at GCC, 1 College Rd., Batavia.

Registration is encouraged and appreciated. Call 585-948-9900.

GSO, Haxton Library partner on music appreciation event for Oakfield community

By Press Release

Press release:

Six members of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra will be presenting a special program on Sept. 15 from 7  to 8 p.m. at the Oakfield Government and Community Center.

Music lovers are invited to come to listen to and learn from these talented musicians as they perform some selected pieces and showcase each of their instruments. Each of the six musicians from the orchestra will explain how their specific instrument works and how it is unique. The audience will experience the six instruments played alone and played together as part of a six-piece ensemble.

“This program is a great way for children and adults to learn about the special qualities of the musical instruments that will be showcased,” says Kim Gibson, Library Director at the Haxton Memorial Library. “Everyone will enjoy this presentation.”

The Genesee Symphony Orchestra is a regional orchestra that presents concerts for the enrichment of our community through high-quality performances, educational opportunities, guest artists, and partnerships. It is one of the oldest civic orchestras in New York state.

The special presentation takes place at 7 p.m. at the Oakfield Government and Community Center, 3219 Drake Street in Oakfield.

This family-friendly project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regent Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the office of the Governor and the New York State legislature and administered by Go Art!         

The Haxton Memorial Library located at 3 North Pearl Street in Oakfield provides residents with a variety of programs, events and materials that are listed on the library’s website at

Photo: File photo by Howard Owens.

Genesee Symphony Orchestra Christmas Concert

By Press Release

Join us Friday, December 17th during our 20th Annual Wonderland of Trees, sponsored in part by Tompkins Bank of Castile and WBTA, to be serenaded by groups of musicians from the Genesee Symphony Orchestra. On Friday, December 17th from 6:30-8:00 various members of the GSO will bring the holiday spirit to the Holland Land Office Museum. December 17th will feature a flute quartet. Tickets to the concerts are $5 or $4 for museum members. Tickets are limited to 20 people due to space. Masks are required. The concert originally scheduled for Friday, December 10th has been cancelled.

Event Date and Time

Genesee Symphony Orchestra celebrates 75 years of Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow this weekend

By Joanne Beck


As the 75th anniversary of Genesee Symphony Orchestra quickly approaches, the planning of its concert this weekend has been anything but rushed.

In fact, Conductor Shade Zajac has been thinking about the event for the last few years.

“I’ve been so looking forward to this particular season for so long, not for any personal reason. I just want the orchestra to be celebrated, for people to know that this incredible thing exists,” Zajac said during an interview with the Batavian. “I am not the same guy I was when we started … and the orchestra is not the same. GSO will always be part of my history and part of my family.”

The 75th celebration concert titled Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Genesee Community College’s Stuart Steiner Theatre, 1 College Rd., Batavia. 

Years in the making ...
Zajac, whose first season was in 2016, has been mulling the 2021 musical season “for a lot of years now,” he said. He had discussed it with Co-President Roxie Choate and had several ideas amidst a pandemic that had canceled many public events. 

“It was touch and go whether or not we would actually be having a season,” he said. 

Once venues began opening up, Zajac and staff plunged ahead with mapping out an agenda of nostalgic and meaningful pieces. History has been the focus of the orchestra’s return to the stage, exactly 75 years to the date it first debuted as Batavia Civic Orchestra. 

A letter in Richmond Memorial Library’s archives demonstrates just how delicate GSO’s formation really was. Zajac stumbled upon it, he said, while scouring the vast relics for concert ideas. It was fairly early on after the orchestra’s 1947 founding, and it was an ominous musing about whether it was worth it to carry on.

“Do you want the Civic Orchestra to continue? If so, will you work for it?” the letter began. “It will be a sad loss to the community to end the orchestra. It seems better, though, to end it quickly than to drag on to a slow death.”

Written by then-President Virginia Trietly, the letter ended with a hopeful encouragement to “muster up enthusiasm — lasting enthusiasm” that would allow the group to survive longer than 11 years. It’s safe to say that community members rallied to carry on and endure the next several decades.

“And here we are 75 seasons later. Yeah, through this horrible pandemic where many orchestras haven't been able to do a thing, and we've been fortunate enough to continue to make music. That's a really incredible thing,” Zajac said. “And it's a testament to the musicians, of course, to all the people that have worked on the board of directors and also to this community that continues to support us through tough times, and through great times. Without all of these components … we wouldn't be having this conversation.” 

As for the music, a concert lineup is chock full of classical compositions, a guest performance, and a piece of freshly crafted work. Mikhail Glinka’s “Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla” is not unfamiliar to orchestras, as it has been performed “many, many, many times” by GSO and others, Zajac said.

“Because it's just a complete fireworks spectacular showcase for the orchestra,” he said. “It’s breakneck fast, and then it gets even faster at the end. It’s a statement to start a program with that piece.”

“Prelude to Act III, Dance of the Apprentices, Final Prelude and Intermezzo,” from Cavalleria, was featured in the very first orchestra performance. Zajac discovered the musical score in library archives labeled with the group's original name. Considered a “classical repertoire,” the prelude is “just gorgeous,” he said.

“I really wanted to do something different, something from the very early season … the librarian gave me the score. And the coolest thing is, stamped on the cover is the Batavia Civic Orchestra, which is, of course, the name before,” he said. “So that is a cool find. And that's a really great piece.”

Then and Now ...
Guest soloist Mia Fasanello will also become part of the orchestra’s history by performing a concerto 75 years after her own grandfather, Sebastian Fasanello, played one during the first concert. No stranger to the GSO, Fasanello won its Young Artist competition for her oboe performance and was a featured soloist with the group for “Concerto for Oboe and Strings” in 2017. Currently studying with the Juilliard School, Fasanello’s talent prickled the judges’ ears from the very first tuning note.

“Oboe is a really tricky instrument to play. And for such a young person to have such a mature sound, it was a no-brainer that she had to be the winner,” Zajac said.  “So it's really great for us to have her come and perform, and to work with us in this collaboration. And it just plays into the whole idea that this is a generational thing.”

From the past of a musician’s grandfather, the concert also includes the present with a “world premiere” of Nancy Pettersen Strelau’s original piece, “A Simple Beautiful Idea.” 

Zajac wanted someone connected to the orchestra to compose a piece for the celebration but wasn’t initially sure who that should be. He chose Strelau for her role as his teacher, mentor, and sounding board throughout his education at Nazareth College School of Music. She even nudged him into applying for the conductor position when it became vacant in 2015. 

“I owe so much to her, she’s an incredible human being; she’s always been there,” he said. “It’s a really beautiful piece … the idea of back when they first wanted this orchestra, how daunting it must have been. It’s a very special piece to me.”

A majestic and lively “Hungarian Rhapsodies no. 2” ends the lineup with a melody often heard during popular cartoons Tom and Jerry, and Bugs Bunny. Don’t be surprised if your mind conjures up a sneaky little rodent wreaking havoc during portions of the song, Zajac said. 

The program includes proclamations from state Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Genesee County Legislator Rochelle Stein; and a display that highlights “certain aspects of our history,”  said GSO librarian and second chair clarinet Joanne Tumminello. A GSO calendar will be available for purchase to support the orchestra and provide a cherished collection of photos across the decades, she said. 

A member since 1995, Tumminello has been in charge of gathering and preserving tidbits of time in the form of news articles, photos, videos and other materials. This year has brought with it a sense of celebration to the wide assortment of members young and old and from all walks of life, she said.

“It’s definitely brought excitement to the orchestra,” Tumminello said. “It has brought us together.”

Shirts with the new GSO logo — selected from entries of a prior logo contest — have been made for members to wear during rehearsal, she said, noting that the 75th will be removed for next season and beyond. That’s a sign that “we can endure anything,” she said.

“The community has a love of history and enjoys supporting us, and that tells us to keep going,” she said. 

Zajac emphasized that although he may be the “face” of the orchestra, it takes the whole body of musicians, board of directors and community support to make a concert, and this celebration, happen. One musician in particular has become part of the 27-year-old conductor’s future: his wife Nicole. Before they were married, she filled in as a pinch-hitter for a vacant French horn seat. The late Bob Knipe, heavily active in the GSO and local music scene, had also “invited her to come and play” in the group. She eventually became a permanent member of GSO.

“I was in the thick of my first season with GSO and knew I needed a sub for Horn. And she turned me down, and we kind of kept talking,” he Zajac said. “And then as that particular concert approached, we needed an extra horn player last minute. So she stepped up, played, and then they kept inviting her back.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Tickets are $15 adults, $10 seniors and free to students with a student identification card, and may be purchased at Holland Land Office Museum, YNGodess or online at

Photos: File photos from previous seasons' rehearsals.  All photos by Howard Owens. Top photo, S. Shade Zajac in 2019.  Videos below from 2019.






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