Monthly Archives: August 2013

NewWSO Testimonial #4: The Best Medicine

How many times have you heard the phrase, “the healing power of music?” Well it’s one thing to hear it and believe that music has magical, intangible qualities that heal a wide range of ailments from physical to psychological. It’s another thing to actually be able to provide an environment for music to work its magic. More and more it seems that NewWSO is that environment.

From Ed S., trumpet player from Katonah, immediately after our concert at Chappaqua Library in July 2013:

Today’s concert was the best medicine I have had for weeks.

I am still in the process of recovering from a ruptured Achilles Tendon. Two weeks ago I ruptured and herniated a disk in my back while doing exercises for my foot. Yesterday I had an epidural shot in my spine to try to alleviate the pain and promote healing.

In spite of all these problems I have continued to practice every day.  This morning I felt horrible so I set my alarm for 12:00 so that I could get ready for today’s concert.

As soon as I arrived at the library the feeling I had from being around my new orchestra friends put me in a great mood. I cannot find any words to express how great I felt being at the concert.

I really enjoyed the listening to and playing the music.  I particularly enjoyed seeing how we are improving as a group, knowing the effort everyone is giving.

As leaders of our Orchestra I want to thank both of you (and the whole group) for creating a great atmosphere that has helped me in my recovery process.

The magical powers of music are not only intangible, they are unknowable until something happens to make it obvious that music, and the people we make music with, contributes something essential to our lives.

Flash Mobs and Outdoor Concerts: Good In Theory, But…

The NewWSO has been asked by several venues and several of its own members if we can perform an outdoor concert or execute a “flash mob” like the famous YouTube video of an ensemble emerging from the woodwork to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy” to an adoring crowd.

While these ideas seem good in theory, the execution is another matter. Without excellent sound reinforcement (and in the case of a slick YouTube video/commercial, professional camera work), outdoor performances might be a great experience for the audience as background music to a nice day in the park.

For the players, however, wind, weather, insects, and other things that come with playing in the great outdoors might be something to think carefully about before trying it. For these reasons, NewWSO has thus far not attempted any outdoor gigs. It doesn’t mean we won’t in the future, but sound reinforcement and shelter will be key components.

Last week the New York Times ran an article about the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center’s first ever outdoor concert at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park. Interesting note: iPads were used by some of the ensemble a solution to the wind problem. Now if only iPads could repel those pesky mosquitoes!


Summertime…Do I Practice, or Do I Be Lazy?

Summertime sloth is at its most slothful in August, especially at the end of August – which just happens to be right about now. Many usual routines fall by the wayside, including practicing one’s instrument.

Conductor Ben Niemczyk gives some gentle encouragement on why you should consider picking up your instrument despite the heat, humidity, and relaxation:

NewWSO Testimonial #3: Do Good For Others, Do Good For Yourself

Let’s face it. Playing music alone is just no fun! Music necessarily brings people together in creation and community. Even the best individual player in the world needs musical support, as well as an audience, to be considered the best.

By indulging the individual desires of local amateur musicians who want to play great music, New Westchester Symphony Orchestra has created a community of people who make music not for themselves, but also for each other and for the community.

Flutist Janet Moulton of Pleasantville explains how playing music with NewWSO is satisfying on so many levels:

As my daughters will testify, one of my mottos has always been “music is a part of our lives”. I used this to force, errr, encourage their participation in public school music programs. Why? Because being a part of a musical ensemble teaches you about music and being part of a team. It helps develop skills as an individual and as a group. And, because I played flute in the middle school and high school bands and absolutely loved my experience. While I continued to dust off my flute annually, I really missed being part of a group. Enter the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra, a diverse group of musicians of all ages and abilities. Pair Ben Niemcyzk, Conductor with a glint in his eye, musicality bar few, and wonderful sense of humor and Belinda Kan, upright bass player, brilliant visionary and promotional guru and we have an organization that really works well. While the NewWSO charges an annual fee, charges admission to 2 concerts per year, and does some fund-raising, we also provide an amazing service to the communities in the Westchester County area by playing free concerts at library venues and entertaining physical rehabilitation and assisted living centers. These performances are well attended and so very much appreciated. The New Westchester Symphony Orchestra has fulfilled my own need to make performing music in a group a part of my life and sharing this with Westchester County.

Conductor Benjamin Niemczyk is a big fan of performance, for many reasons:

What are you waiting for? Join us either as a musician or an audience member at an upcoming concert.

New Westchester Symphony Orchestra. Great Music Played by Anyone…For Everyone.

The Accordion’s Place in the Orchestra

The accordion is not generally known as a traditional orchestral instrument. A chamber music performance at this year’s Mostly Mozart 2013 Festival this past Thursday featuring a solo accordion arrangement of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, played by accordionist William Schimmel, would seem to corroborate this generality, even if the performance elicits surprise and delight at the fact that the instrument utters classical music at all.

The accordion’s place in a traditional orchestra playing traditional orchestral repertoire, while rare, is not unheard of. This Wikipedia article lists classical works for which composers such as Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich wrote for accordion as an orchestral instrument.

The NewWSO is lucky to have our very own accordionist. Most of the time she plays oboe parts (after all, the accordion is technically a reed instrument!), but the accordion really shines in the Shostakovich Waltz No. 2 (from Suite for Variety Orchestra) and in the Satie Gymnopedie II (orch. Debussy), where the instrument lends an air of Parisian “je ne sais quoi” to the impressionistic mood of the piece.

Here’s an excerpt from the Shostakovich, superbly performed by the Berlin Philharmoniker, where you can catch a brief glimpse of the accordion to the left of the saxophones at the very end of the clip:


An Opulent Performance Space at The Osborn in Rye, NY

Yesterday, twenty-seven musicians from the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra performed for the residents of The Osborn, a senior living community in Rye, NY.

NewWSO has performed at numerous senior living communities since our inception in November 2011. We have performed in spaces big and small, modern and historic, and in various states of repair (or disrepair). At one venue, we performed in a small kitchenette which is in the corner of their recreation room. Wherever it is, we make it work because we know the residents appreciate having great music brought to them.

However, The Osborn was in a separate class. The main building is an immense neo-Georgian style residence opulently decorated and built expressly as a senior residence since its opening in 1908. The best part for us was their gorgeous auditorium/music room with a stage and an original Steinway piano from 1907. The residents are blessed with music every Sunday, and we felt privileged to be a part of their Sunday afternoon concert series.

Now, we won’t NOT play in a space just because it isn’t as fancy as The Osborn. But once in a while, it’s nice for us to have a treat as well as the residents! In this video, Conductor Ben Niemczyk explains how a performance space can contribute to great music-making.

NewWSO Testimonial #2: A New Chapter

When we recently asked our musicians to describe the role of NewWSO in their lives, we were very touched and extremely humbled to discover that in many cases, playing in the orchestra marked a new chapter of excitement and expression. One of our cellists from Hastings was even inspired to write a poem following a recent rehearsal. Read on…

Six months after my husband died, a friend in NewWSO encouraged me to join. After not playing the cello for 25-plus years, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to play in an orchestra again. I’ve come full circle now, blossoming into this chapter of my life making beautiful music with a community of musicians and sharing it in our performances to warmly appreciative audiences.

Our Wednesday night rehearsals are better than a visit to a spa or a superdose of vitamins. Ben’s full acceptance of where we are when we begin inspires us to improve despite ourselves and to gain in confidence. It’s gratifying to play a piece a year later that originally seemed impossible.

I wrote the following poem the morning after playing Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony for the first time. There are other “rapturous evenings,” most recently with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.


A smile lingers on my face

Like a magic candle

I can’t blow out

After a rapturous evening

With Ben Britten.

Do you know him?

We begin our evening

With  “Boisterous Bouree,”

Laugh joyously through

“Playful Pizzicato,”

Harmonize in “Sentimental Saraband”

Dance to the “Frolicsome Finale.”

An hour with Ben Britten

And my fellow string players

Is better than eating a bag

Of hot buttered popcorn,

Butter dripping down my chin

And not caring and better than

The first sniff of the ocean

Before we see the beach

After a long hot ride to the coast

It’s better than je ne sais quoi.

The day after, I’m still smiling.

   -Janet M.

Playing “The Hard Stuff”

As an audition-free orchestra, NewWSO encourages players of all musical abilities to join us in making great music together. However, we do not compromise on repertoire, playing the same editions of music that professionals orchestra play whenever possible. We believe this is part of the reason amateur musicians are drawn to this orchestra, because where else can “hobbyist” musicians try their hand at playing Beethoven Symphony No. 5? Not many places!

“Hard” is a subjective term. In the NewWSO, one musician may find a particular piece easy, where another might find the same piece difficult. However, most of our musicians currently agree that a fairly new piece in our repertoire, the Brahms Symphony No. 4, Mov’t 2, has difficult spots for all instruments. It’s Brahms, after all! But the orchestra musicians voted it in because it is a great and beautiful piece of music that they are willing to work on.

In this video, Ben shares his philosophy on how playing “hard” pieces of music helps us improve other pieces that we play:

What are your thoughts on the level of difficulty of NewWSO pieces?

Birds of a Feather? NewWSO and The Berliner Philharmoniker

What does the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra have in common with what is arguably currently the best orchestra on the planet? More than you think!

In this excellent article, Tony Woodcock, the President of the New England Conservatory of Music, reveals the inner workings of the Berliner Philharmoniker, or as we know them in the States, the Berlin Philharmonic. Especially interesting is how they govern themselves, how the musicians are self-starting when it comes to organizing chamber groups and activities in the community, and most of all how they are constantly adapting to an ever-changing world. This is in direct contrast to how professional orchestras in the US seem to be dropping like flies due not only to lack of funding, but also due to lack of relevance which ultimately leads to lack of funding.

NewWSO’s goal is to remain relevant for the long haul, and we can learn a lot from the Berlin Phil in this respect. In fact, we are already doing some of what they do, for example:

  • Musician-managed chamber groups, surprisingly similar to NewWSO’s growing chamber program, which enhances the experience for both our musicians and our audiences:

Besides playing in the Orchestra, every musician is expected to be a soloist, perform chamber music and contribute to the overall vision of the Orchestra. Looking at the website, I counted some 30 recognized ensembles including the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, Amarcord-Quartet, Philharmonic Piano Quartet, and Berlin Baroque Soloists. I was told there are at least another six not cited. These ensembles, many of which we see on the international touring circuit, are organized and managed by the musicians, working as entrepreneurs from within the orchestra. These groups are also presented at the smaller chamber music hall at the Philharmonie. The musicians prepare their programmes in their own time and at their own expense. They will only receive additional compensation for the series at the Philharmonie. The qualities of chamber music are seen as being at the centre of their work as an Orchestra allowing them artistic collaborations that inform the character of the full orchestra.

  • Community outreach, again not unlike NewWSO:

The musicians’ work touches many, from kindergarteners to prisoners, from teachers to lifelong learners. There is no contractual obligation for the musicians to do this work. They are paid no additional fees — just travel expenses. They do it because they understand the inherent transformative power of music and want to share that with audiences who have not previously experienced it.

So dive in, read the rest of the article, and imagine what the US would be like if the The Big Five orchestras (or six or more, depending on who’s counting) were all like this. Pure bliss.

What’s in an Acronym? Why We’re “NewWSO” and Not “NWSO”

Being that we are the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra, it would seem to make sense that our acronym would be “NWSO.”

Except that the NWSO already exists, and has existed for many years!

“NWSO” is the acronym for the Northern Westchester Symphony Orchestra, which is conducted by Gabriel Tevan and is based in Croton-on-Hudson. But wait, there’s more!

It is also not uncommon for people to confuse us with the Westchester Philharmonic, an all-professional orchestra that performs at SUNY Purchase. We recently received a call from someone wanting to “subscribe” to our 2013-2014 season! And we haven’t even yet mentioned the Westchester Chamber Symphony, which is changing its name to “The Symphony of Westchester” from this season forward. How to keep it all straight?

It is true that there are not too many permutations of “Westchester,” “symphony” and “orchestra” available, so naturally it’s easy to get confused. Since we want to give the NWSO, Westchester Phil, the Symphony of Westchester and other Westchester ensembles their proper recognition, we thought it would be helpful to provide some background on why we call ourselves the “New” Westchester Symphony Orchestra:

A brief history of the original Westchester Symphony Orchestra can be read in this NY Times article from 2002, an article unfortunately announcing their demise. Interestingly enough, they began 1924 as an amateur orchestra, which is what NewWSO founders Belinda Kan and Ben Niemczyk wanted to create in November of 2011 after going their separate ways from the Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester due to artistic differences.

Belinda and Ben wanted to revive what they interpreted to be the spirit of the original Westchester Symphony Orchestra (founded as the White Plains Symphony Orchestra in 1924, not to be confused with a different White Plains Symphony Orchestra that existed from 1961-1987), which was to give everyone the opportunity to play great music. After tracking down a few people involved with the final iteration of the WSO and receiving their blessing to use the name (although they did question the wisdom of starting yet another orchestra in Westchester), the board of our fledgling young orchestra agreed to stick “New” in front of Westchester Symphony Orchestra, and the rest is history in the making.

We hope this clears up a few things. And yes, there will be a test on this at the next rehearsal!!