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.
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.
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.
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 www.HaxtonLibrary.org.
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.
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 www.geneseesymphony.com.
Photos: File photos from previous seasons' rehearsals. All photos by Howard Owens. Top photo, S. Shade Zajac in 2019. Videos below from 2019.
City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. reads a proclamation from the City of Batavia in commemoration of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra's 75th year as Sherry Mosher, left, GSO board member, and Melzie Case, symphony musician, look on at tonight's City Council meeting. Founded as the Batavia Civic Orchestra in 1947, it is one of the oldest civic orchestras in New York State. The proclamation credits the GSO for "enriching the community through high quality performance, educational opportunities, guest artists and partnerships." Photo by Mike Pettinella.
Due to the weather forecast for tomorrow, July 17, the Genesee Symphony Orchestra’s 75th Season Reveal Event has been moved to the Batavia City Centre.
The FREE concert will be at 4 p.m. Saturday and GSO patrons can enter through the entrance by the former Sunny’s restaurant.
From Roxie Choate:
GSO .... "along with advice from the Batavia Parks Manager made the decision to have the REVEAL Event move from Austin Park to the Batavia City Centre Concourse. Our rainy weather prediction has caused our problem.
"Austin Park is going to be one mushy, soggy grass situation after the all night rain and rain into Saturday till afternoon also.
"We are playing it safe. Our food trucks can still park on the JCPenney wall in the back entrance to the mall. Use the back entrance next to where Sunny's Restaurant used to be.
"Remember to bring your own chair. We will set the orchestra up on the stage area.
"We cannot enter the mall until 3 p.m. We are hiring a city custodian to be our entrance and lock up person for the mall. We will be carrying 60 chairs for the orchestra into the mall at 3 p.m. if anyone would like to help. COME ON DOWN..."
The Genesee Symphony Orchestra will livestream a free memorial concert next Friday honoring the late musician and educator Bob Knipe, who played in the orchestra and served on the board for many years, among his other contributions.
Music Director and Conducter S. Shade Zajac, in a note to friends and supporters about the concert, says Bob was truly a "force for the arts," one who "worked tirelessly to make our GSO a vibrant part of our GLOW region."
The Robert Knipe Memorial Concert will be held virtually via the streaming service Vimeo beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 26.
A few days prior, a lnik will appear on the GSO website and its social media pages with a link that will allow you to access the concert. The link will go directly to the livestream, which will be activated at 7:20 p.m. March 26.
Here's the program for next Friday's concert:
Der Freischütz Overture -- Carl Maria von Weber
Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 61 - Nocturne -- Felix Mendelssohn
Trois (3) Gymnopédies, Gymnopédie No. 1 -- Erik Satie, orchestrated by Claude Debussy
English Folk Song Suite, March -- Ralph Vaughan Williams
String Quarter No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135, III. Lento assai, cantate e tranquillo -- Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, Finale -- Johannes Brahms
"Nimrod" from Enigma Variations, Op. 36 -- Edward Elgar
Also be aware that GSO's board and the Knipe family have decided to create a scholarship in Bob's name.
About the Robert Knipe Memorial Fund
It will be used to expand opportunities for elementary, middle school, high school and college-bound students to further advance their music education. The funds will promote their musical growth through attending music camps, festivals, Area All State and All State festivals -- empowering them to enter music and stay involved in their musical growth. It is hoped young musicians who are beneficiaries will be influenced to continue in their musical career.
GSO hopes to raise donations from the memorial concert to support this new project and you can donate on the GSO website.
"Bob was passionate about many things ... One of his many passions was creating opportunities for young musicians to further their growth and love of the art," says Zajac.
The loss of Bob Knipe is one which will be felt in nearly every corner of Genesee County.
Knipe, 73, died Saturday at home after a brief illness, with his family at his side.
Knipe came to Genesee County from the West Coast to work at Genesee Community College, where he spent 23 years before retiring as dean of Learning Technologies.
“It wasn’t just the college Bob was passionate about,” said S. Shade Zajac, conductor of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, in which Knipe played the French horn. “Rotary, GO ART!, United Way – he was involved in them all. He had a deep love of community. He touched so many people.”
Zajac recalls the first time he met Knipe at GO ART!, where he interviewed for the job as orchestra conductor.
“I got there early because I was so nervous, and Bob met me at the door,” Zajac said. “He called me by my first name and that put me ease.”
He said Knipe was never one to shy away from a joke, corny or otherwise. He played in Zajac’s trial concert, and the first conversation they had after Zajac got the job was about all the different projects Knipe wanted to do with the orchestra.
“Bob was a staunch supporter of this orchestra back before I was born,” said the 27-year-old conductor. “Performing and music – that was Bob. He loved to play with the orchestra and they loved him. Bob’s love and knowledge of the orchestra are undisputable. To say he was loved and respected throughout the entire orchestra is an understatement.”
Before Knipe’s death, the orchestra had been planning a virtual concert in his honor.
“We had sent the music we were going to play to Bob’s wife, Linda, and she played it for him,” Zajac said. “He was very touched.”
When the orchestra learned about the concert paying tribute to Knipe, Zajac said the response from the entire orchestra was overwhelming.
“It is a tribute to how much he was loved and respected," Zajac said.
Even Patty Hume from GCC contacted Zajac and asked if they would like to use space at the college to perform. In addition, the college’s tech team will assist with the recording.
The music for the program is peaceful and quiet, because Knipe’s wife did not want the music to be sad.
The virtual concert is scheduled for March 26, and to watch the livestreamed concert from GCC's Stuart Steiner Theatre, folks should go to the orchestra’s website to find a live link to tune into at 7:30 that evening.
There will be a donate button for those who wish and funds which come in will be given to Knipe’s family to establish a memorial as they wish, said Roxie Choate, president of the orchestra's Board of Directors.
The orchestra is suggesting the Knipe family consider setting up a college scholarship fund for a high school senior who will be entering the field of music.
Marjorie Fulmer shared her memories of playing flute with Bob in the GSO.
“I’m not sure how many years Bob has been a member of the GSO, but I’ve been a member for 35 years and he has been there most of that time," Fulmer said. "We also spent many years on the board together, and we were co-presidents for a couple of those years. His boundless enthusiasm and true love and appreciation for the orchestra always came through loud and clear.
"He seemed to have endless energy for both the mental and physical aspects of running a community orchestra. He was constantly the one who schlepped around the music stands to various venues and set the stage up countless times so it would be ready for the other musicians at rehearsals and concerts. While many of the orchestra members are music teachers or have some kind of professional background related to music, Bob did not.
"So many times he told me that one of the goals of a community orchestra should be inclusiveness and he totally appreciated that the GSO included him. The arts in Genesee County have much to thank Bob Knipe for.”
Barb Meyer, a fellow hornist with Knipe, shared some of the light moments they enjoyed in the orchestra. Her memories are of the times they would get in trouble for playing too aggressively or missing their entrance and were chided for talking and not paying attention.
Meyer said Knipe wore many hats in the orchestra, as operations manager, as well as president. He loved pranks, she said, and it was not unusual for the conductor to turn around after speaking to the audience only to see the horn section decked out in something on their heads. Knipe’s favorite was his big bag of reindeer antlers and Santa hats for the annual holiday concert.
“I will miss his sense of humor, dedication and love of music, in addition to the corny music jokes and pranks,” Meyer said.
She also noted a rare coincidence -- that her horn and Bob’s are both Conn 8D models, and were built within a short time of each other, as the serial numbers are close.
“What are the chances of that in the same orchestra?” she asked.
Gregg McAllister became friends with Knipe through their involvement in Rotary 30 years ago.
“Bob was the kind who immediately put down roots and became involved in his community,” McAllister said. “He became involved because he wanted to better the community where he lived. Bob was involved in so many things and he was such a pleasure to work with. He was always willing to take on the job as board member or leader, but he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, either.”
McAllister cited a recent gleaning project undertaken by Rotary, where Knipe was there with his pickup collecting beets. When they cleaned up Rotary Park and made repairs at the Domestic Violence Safe House, Knipe was there working.
One day week, Knipe volunteered to drive military veterans to medical appointments.
McAllister said one very important program Knipe was involved in with him for 25 years was Rotary’s Youth Exchange Program, which provided life-changing experiences for youth from around the world. As a result, tributes and condolences have been coming in from all over the world.
“Bob loved to travel to other countries, but he loved Batavia, too,” McAllister said.
Board President Choate was also a member of the Batavia First Presbyterian Church with Knipe.
“He was very involved with the church, holding some of their decision-making positions,” she said. “Wherever Bob was, he held a strong leadership role. Bob was also a huge family man.”
Conductor Zajac added a comment about the orchestra’s holiday presentation of “Encore” at Christmas time.
“As a member of the GCC faculty, Knipe had tried for many years to make the holiday concert happen with the Genesee Symphony,” Zajac said. “The day I told him, he was ecstatic. To me it is incredibly fitting and heartwarming that Bob’s last concert should be ‘Encore.’ ”
Knipe’s full obituary can be read here on The Batavian.
Top photo, by Howard Owens.
Photo below, courtesy of Genesee Symphony Orchestra.