A Stupendous Week Playing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Last week, four NewWSO musicians traveled to Baltimore, MD to participate in Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Academy Week, a sort of “band camp” for amateur orchestral musicians. Trumpet players Ira Spier, NewWSO Executive Director and bassist Belinda Kan, and NewWSO conductor and violist Benjamin Niemczyk jumped into the unknown as first-time participants playing under the direction of conductor Marin Alsop. They all first heard about it through a New York Times article from 2012.

Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, home of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

While some other professional orchestras around the country offer a side-by-side experience, no program quite matches BSO’s full week of immersion. And immersion it was! The week began on Sunday, July 15 and culminated with a finale concert in the BSO’s Meyerhoff concert hall on Saturday, July 21. 110+ participants were divided into Orchestra 1 and Orchestra 2, and both groups played with the pros. Orchestra 1 played the first half of the finale concert, Orchestra 2 played the second half. The concert program was:

Orchestra 1 dress rehearsal with Maestra Marin Alsop. 120+ pro and amateur musicians on stage, as well as three sets of timpani!

Orchestra 1:
Dvorak Carnival Overture
Debussy Image pour Orchestra, No. 2 Iberia
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Waltz
Mahler Symphony 6, Mov’t 1

Orchestra 2:
Mahler Symphony 6, Mov’t 3
Berlioz Symphony Fantastique, Mov’ts 1, 2, 4, 5

See more picture on our Facebook page.

The Academy Week participants had four rehearsals with the BSO musicians and Maestra Alsop before the final concert. In addition, there were optional “add-on” musical experiences available, such as a solo recital (which Ira bravely performed), chamber orchestra (in which Belinda and Ed played), and chamber ensembles with a professional musician.

Belinda’s experience:

At the beginning of the week, after Sunday’s first chamber orchestra rehearsal, I said to myself and to others, ‘What did I get myself into?’ In one week, I had to (ok, chose to) learn a Mendelssohn overture, a Mozart symphony and a Beethoven symphony for the Thursday night chamber orchestra concert, as well as Symphony Fantastique and the Mahler 6 movement for the Saturday night full orchestra concert – and I didn’t know what ANY of the pieces sounded like!

Amazingly, it all came together, as it always does. It was such a surreal experience to hear this gorgeous sound emanating from around me. And then I realized that I was about to help *make* the sound, which was even more surreal. I confided in my stand partner (one of the pro bassists) that I was very tense at the rehearsals on stage, but he was kind, understanding, and gave me some good advice about how to handle the anxiety. After speaking with him I really got to enjoy Saturday’s dress rehearsal and final concert. I learned so much in such a short time, and from the nicest group of musicians I have ever met. And now I am obsessed with “Symphonie Fantastique,” which was previously unknown to me. It was an unforgettable experience.

Surprisingly, many of the Academy participants were returning for their 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th times (this was the fifth year of the BSO Academy). It shows what a unique program this is and how truly welcoming the BSO players are. They went out of their way to help the amateurs, and they told us that our enthusiasm reminded them of the significance of what they do as a job. So three cheers for Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Academy Week. If you are at all thinking about participating, no time like the present to start planning for next year!

View from the stage during the intermission of the finale concert on Saturday night.

View from the stage during the intermission of the finale concert on Saturday night.



NewWSO Members Making Music in Bryant Park, NYC

Berlioz in Bryant Park, June 21, 2014. Karsten Moran for the New York Times. NewWSO trumpet player Jack Binder is in the green baseball cap.

On Saturday, June 21, two NewWSO musicians participated in the 8th annual Make Music New York Festival, a celebration of outdoor music in all areas of New York City in celebration of the first day of summer.

NewWSO timpanist Jim Austrian and trumpet player Jack Binder took part in an outdoor wind band performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale in Bryant Park, in the heart of Manhattan. Over 200 woodwind and brass players, including 30 members of the West Point Band, performed this piece on a perfect, sunny first day of summer after a morning rehearsal. The New York Times published a piece on all the MMNY performances that day, including pictures of the Berlioz and other events.

For Jim Austrian, the event was definitely worth hauling his timpani from Westchester. Jim stated afterwards, “For me, this one of the great musical events of a long life.  Nearly
everything about it was joyous and fulfilling.” Jack Binder said, “Belioz was excellent.  There were easily 1000, maybe 2000 people in the park…The music was not particularly hard, the conductor was excellent, and everybody was into it.”

To get on Make Music New York’s email list for upcoming events, visit http://makemusicny.org.

Do orchestras really need conductors?


NewWSO Conductor Benjamin Niemczyk

The age-old debate about whether a conductor is actually necessary is still alive and well. After all, hasn’t the composer given all the instructions necessary for playing beautiful music?

The pro-conductor camp has been given a boost by this recent and very articulate article by Ivan Hewitt (“What do Conductors Do?The Telegraph, May 1, 2014) for the necessity of a conductor in a large symphony orchestra. He also illustrates the difference between what a new conductor versus a seasoned conductor can evoke from an ensemble:

…Even when they don’t actually collapse, performances led by beginner conductors always have a strange blank quality. It’s as if the violins are deaf to the cellos, and horns to the woodwind; there’s no guiding spirit which makes everything cohere.

Last week, at a masterclass given by eminent conductor Bernard Haitink at the Easter Festival in Lucerne, I witnessed several young conductors who, at this level of basic intelligibility, were all pretty competent. But the experience of the maestro, as he talked about the piece they were conducting (Mahler’s Fourth Symphony) showed that they still had a long way to go.

A common problem was a failure to pay attention to the composer’s markings in the score. “Playing what’s written” sounds dull, but actually it’s really hard, because what’s written needs imagination to be brought to life. Haitink pointed out a telling indication in Mahler’s symphony: “geheimnisvoll” — literally, “secret-full”. How on earth do you make something sound secretive? The young conductor on the podium was flummoxed, so Haitink seized the baton. And instantly a dusky, mysterious quality appeared, bearing down on the music like encroaching dusk…[link to full article]

This article is a good reminder that an orchestra is not a gathering of individual musicians playing their own parts on their own instruments. An orchestra is one cohesive unit playing a single piece, and the conductor is the person who reminds us of that fact.

NY Times Article on Anthony Newman, NewWSO Guest Artist

Anthony Newman plays the organ at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, where he has been music director since 1991. Credit Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

A recently published article in the New York Times (“At Peace With a Certain Level of Reknown,” by Phillip Lutz, NY Times, May 3, 2014) gives insight into Anthony Newman, the great Westchester musician who will be headlining our Fall 2014 Intergenerational Concert.

Smiling serenely and speaking in modulated tones, Anthony Newman looked back without anger at his life’s course. The keyboardist and composer, who will be 73 on May 12, did not dwell on how his vibrant readings of early music, once criticized in certain quarters, were now widely copied. Nor did he ponder how fame — the recording mogul Clive Davis once enlisted him to bring Bach to the counterculture masses — in the end proved a bit of a mirage.

“I don’t have the spiteful thing at all,” he said last month, squeezed into a lotus position on a chair in his office at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, where he has been music director since 1991. “I have the Eastern point of view of nonattachment.”

That view, he said, eases his days at the church, a pastoral existence a world apart from the days when, signed to a contract with Columbia Records thanks to a smashing debut at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1967, he was swept into the fast lane, teaching at the Juilliard School by day and jamming by night with the likes of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Ravi Shankar…[click here for full article]

NewWSO is honored and humbled to perform with Mr. Newman. Tickets for NewWSO’s 2014 Intergenerational Concert will go on sale in Summer 2014.

Announcing NewWSO’s Fall 2014 Intergenerational Concert

New Westchester Symphony Orchestra is excited to officially announce our inaugural Intergenerational Concert, taking place on Sunday, October 26, 2014.

NewWSO’s musicians already range in age from 15-86, so you might be wondering what makes the Fall Concert specifically “Intergenerational?” While we do have two high school students who are regular members of NewWSO, we are opening up this opportunity to play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 to thirty (30) additional middle school, high school, and college students who might otherwise not be able to join NewWSO on a regular basis. With a minimal time commitment of four rehearsals in the fall and optional rehearsals in the summer, we hope that any student who has ever wanted to play Beethoven’s 5th with a full orchestra will apply.

No auditions or audition materials necessary, students will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis as long as there is space in their section.

The other exciting aspect of the Intergenerational Concert is that Westchester resident and harpsichord virtuoso Anthony Newman will headline the event. Mr. Newman will perform the Bach Concerto for Harpsichord in D Minor (BWV 1052) with NewWSO, as well as a solo work. What a great opportunity for Westchester residents to hear both a virtuosic performance as well as a community music performance in the same concert. The Intergenerational Concert will celebrate the diverse range of Westchester’s musicians, from professional to hobbyist.

Students: Click HERE to apply to perform in the concert. Parental consent required for students under 18 years of age.

Can You Say…Joshua Bell?


Joshua Bell, left, and Malcolm McDowell in a scene from ‘Mozart.’ Amazon Studios

Update: The pilot mentioned in the post below was released in February 2014 and can be viewed for free on Amazon.com by clicking this link:  http://www.amazon.com/Pilot-HD/dp/B00I3NHQ5I. It was picked up for full series development, so you may be seeing more of NewWSO on your computer or TV screen.

Remember a few weeks back when we posted about our foray into acting in this blog post? And we mentioned that we shared the stage with a “very famous violinist” in the filming of the upcoming Amazon.com pilot “Mozart in the Jungle?” That violinist has finally been officially announced as none other than the great Joshua Bell!

It’s true. NewWSO formed part of the orchestra in the background and mimed the accompaniment to Joshua Bell’s signature performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. It was an amazing thrill for all orchestra members involved, and not likely something that will happen again any time soon. Our jaws also dropped when Bernadette Peters walked out on stage, unbeknownst to any of us in advance!

NewWSO is mentioned this Wall Street Journal article from December 6, 2013, the day after the entire cast was announced Here is an excerpt, full article available here and links to other articles at the end of this post:

The roughly 30-minute pilot wrapped up filming in Manhattan and Purchase, N.Y., in November, and will be released online in early 2014. On Thursday, Amazon announced its cast, which, in addition to Mr. McDowell and Ms. Peters, includes Gael García Bernal, Lola Kirke, Saffron Burrows and Peter Vack….

Various local musicians are also involved, including the actors’ coaches and members of the Chelsea Symphony and the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra….

In Mr. Bell’s scene in “Mozart in the Jungle,” he plays the end of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and bows while bantering with Mr. McDowell.

While this mimicked his regular routine—performing, bowing, post-concert chatter—it was nevertheless a rush.

“It gives me a little bit of the bug,” Mr. Bell said. “It makes me want to stretch a little bit, and try a couple more lines next time.”

More articles on the topic:

Entire Wall Street Journal article, Dece 6, 2013

Official Press release via Nasdaq.com, Dec 5, 2013

Article on Mozart in the Jungle on Variety.com, Dec 5, 2013

Director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) on the MITJ Cast, Dec 10, 2013

http://studios.amazon.com/projects/28703 – Click here to “follow” the project on the Amazon Studios website. Be sure to view it and vote for it when it comes out in early 2014!


A Smashing Sing

On Sunday, December 8, 2013, NewWSO held its second annual Messiah Sing-Along at the Briarcliff Congregational Church. Despite the threat of stormy winter weather, a full house of approx 130 audience gathered to sing Handel’s great oratorio to the tune of New Westchester Symphony Orchestra’s accompaniment.


Singing and playing several arias and all but a few of the choruses, the audience and the orchestra filled the festively-decorated church with the sounds of true community-created music. Even those who did not sing enjoyed being enveloped by the sound, a change from passively observing a performance from afar. The “Hallelujah” and “Worthy is the Lamb” choruses were especially impressive and awe-inspiring.

If you attended this year’s Messiah Sing-Along, please let us know your impressions by taking this brief, two-question survey. It will help us make next year’s Sing-Along and all future NewWSO events even better.


In November 2012, NewWSO held its first Messiah Sing-Along at the Music Conservatory of Westchester with 60 audience members. We doubled our audience this year, and who knows how many will join us next year to sing, listen and join in what seems destined to become a new Westchester tradition? Check our website often and join our mailing list to stay informed of details on next year’s Messiah Sing-Along as well as all of our 2014 performances and events.


NewWSO: Stars of Stage and Screen!

On Monday, November 18, 2013, 27 members of the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra participated in the shooting of a scene for an Amazon series pilot! The series, called “Mozart in the Jungle,” is based on the memoir of the same name by Blair Tindall. This particular scene was shot at SUNY Purchase in Westchester County, NY.

NewWSO horn player Heidi Giarlo looking fabulous!

They needed an orchestra in the background and tapped NewWSO and The Chelsea Symphony to fill the roles. They wanted the orchestra to look as real, so rather than hiring random extras they called us. They wanted us to play to track rather than play for real, a perfect arrangement which allowed our musicians to enjoy the experience rather than stress about putting on a performance.

The day was long, but sharing the stage with a world-famous violinist (whose name we won’t mention here, but it’s not hard to find out who!), even if we were only “fake accompanying” him, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the highlight of the day. And most of us got to experience, for the first time, the behind the scenes action that goes into the making of a TV show. Also on set (among others who have not yet been officially announced!) was one of the stars, Gael Garcia Bernal, and co-writer Jason Schwartzman of Coppola family and Rushmore fame (Schwartzman is Talia Shire’s son, i.e. Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew). More about the series from Deadline Hollywood:

Mozart in the Jungle was written by Oscar-nominated writer and director Roman Coppola, actor and musician Jason Schwartzman, and Tony-nominated writer and director Alex Timbers. The project is based on the memoir Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall. Mozart in the Jungle is all about sex, drugs—and classical music—and shows that what happens behind the curtains at the symphony can be just as captivating as what happens on stage.

“Many shows are in a single world; Mozart in the Jungle is an unusual show in that there are two worlds fused together. On one side is the high-level skill and sophistication that comes with classical music, and at the same time it’s a story that includes people rising up from the bottom, trying to make it in the big world. I love the sense of contrast, the high and the low, the refined and the more base—I hope audiences will love it too,” said Roman Coppola, co-creator of Mozart in the Jungle. “Amazon has been incredibly supportive and they have given us their blessing to make this show. We are very much in harmony and we feel lucky to be working with a partner that is so in sync with us and what we want to do.”

Checkout pics on our Facebook page, and stay tuned for information on  release date for the pilot, probably sometime in 2014. Pickup a copy of the book today!


Conductor Ben Niemczyk Invites YOU to our Messiah Sing on Dec 8

Conductor Ben Niemczyk shares his thoughts about our upcoming Messiah Sing-Along event on Sunday, December 8 in Briarcliff Manor:

New Westchester Symphony Orchestra’s Messiah Sing-Alongs are great for many reasons. First, it allows the audience (aka the singers) the opportunity to sing the complete choruses from Messiah, not just Part 1 and Hallelujah chorus. We will definitely sing the thrilling finale movement, “Worthy is the Lamb.”

Second, it allows the audience to sing the arias they’ve always wanted to sing, without the pressure of singing as a soloist in front of an audience. The audience will have the chance to sing the following arias as a section:

  • 2. Comfort Ye, My People (tenor)
  • 3. Ev’ry Valley (tenor)
  • 6. But Who May Abide? (alto)
  • 20. He Shall Feed His Flock (soprano & alto)
  • 45. I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (soprano)
  • 47. Behold I Tell You a Mystery (bass)
  • 48. The Trumpet Shall Sound (bass)

So sing out strong!

Third, it allows the audience to sing to the accompaniment of a full orchestra. NewWSO will play from the Mozart/Prout edition of Messiah, scored for full orchestra. It is a true testament to our members’ love of great music when an audition-free, amateur orchestra commits to learning Handel’s oratorio in just a few short weeks.

Having others with whom to make this great repertoire is priceless. Come join us for an afternoon of true community-created music!

NewWSO’s 2nd Annual Messiah Sing-Along, Sun Dec 8

In just two weeks, Thanksgiving will be upon us. And less than two weeks after that, New Westchester Symphony Orchestra will host its 2nd Annual Messiah Sing-Along on Sunday, December 8 from 305pm at the historic Briarcliff Congregational Church, 30 S. State Rd, Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510.

If you love Messiah sings, don’t miss your chance to sing the complete Messiah choruses (not just Part 1) with full orchestra accompaniment. You will even get a chance to sing a few of the arias that you’ve always wanted to sing. There are no soloists for this event – YOU are the soloists and the chorus!

Tickets are $10 and include optional score rental. Children under 8 free. Purchase advance tickets online at http://newsymphony.org/messiah.html

Special thanks to Interim Minister Jack Lohr at Church in the Highlands, White Plains, for posting this blog entry about our event.