It’s no surprise that in a place like Williamsport—the town that birthed the country’s oldest community band, the Repasz Band, in 1831—music is always in the air. The little city in the mountains is fertile ground for all types and traditions of music, and both the number of musicians and the caliber of their music seem lavish for such a rural area. And perhaps one of the strongest strains of music here—and one of the most difficult to sustain anywhere—is the symphony orchestra. A partly professional orchestra, filled out with talented amateur musicians from this part of Pennsylvania, is not any easy thing to sustain, but in the case of the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra (WSO), it is not only alive after fifty years, but is growing both in talent and audience size.
So it should come as no surprise that the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its fiftieth year with an extravaganza of special events. And what better way to start than by having a reunion? And despite the built-in challenge of pulling off a reunion when the parties are scattered across the country, this one netted a rich haul: over thirty former WSO musicians, and two former conductors—Don Beckie and Robin Fountain.
But this reunion will include everyone. On October 17, the day before the first concert, is “Meet the Maestro” night, where the former players from 1966 onward, former conductors, current WSO Maestro Gerardo Edelstein, and guest solo cellist Andrew Rammon will join to talk about the orchestra. The public is welcome to join this reunion event at the Capitol Lounge of the Community Art Center at 5:30 p.m.
The reunion continues at the first Golden Anniversary concert, featuring Maestro Robin Fountain conducting the overture to May Night by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. “He was here for many years, and Robin did so much to develop the orchestra,” says Joyce Hershberger, President of the WSO Board of Trustees. Hind Jabbor, business manager of WSO, who arrived after Fountain left, understands the warmth that Williamsport holds for the man who held the baton for seventeen years. “She is such a people person,” he says. This concert will also feature the Cello Concerto, Op. 85 in E minor, by Edward Elgar, performed by the symphony’s principal cellist, Andrew Rammon. For Rammon, it is also a farewell, as he is moving on to the Washington, D.C. area.
The rest of the season is equally golden. Dan Kamin, another WSO alum, will be the guest artist for the holiday concert on December 13. And, on February 17, over 300 musicians and choral members will gather to perform Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection Symphony. The piece, one of the high points of nineteenth century symphonic music, is challenging for any group. “Twenty years ago, this Mahler would be too difficult,” says Joyce Hershberger. “But now we have the number of musicians, the choirs. We have the ability.”
The last concert of the season will feature Joseph Haydn’s early Symphony No. 6 in D major, popularly known as Le Matin (The Morning), a piece first played by the Williamsport Symphony in 1915. So, in a very real way, this fiftieth anniversary also celebrates 100 years of symphonic performances by a local orchestra. There were a couple of breaks (for World War II and the like), but this most recent fifty-year run can lay claim to deeper roots. And that bodes well for the future of the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra.