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From whimsy to profound history: Waterbury Symphony Orchestra has a robust season

The Waterbury Symphony Orchestra performing at St. John’s Church on Oct. 1, 2022.
Doug Donato
The Waterbury Symphony Orchestra performing at St. John’s Church on Oct. 1, 2022.

An orchestra with something for everyone.

“Even if you’re a non-musician, there’s something for everyone in the upcoming season and even if classical music may not be something you normally listen to, there is no experience like hearing it live,” said Doug Donato, the executive director.

The Waterbury Symphony Orchestra started their upcoming season by performing Poulenc’s Organ Concerto in G minor, and the Saint Saens Symphony No. 3 op.78 in C minor with renowned organist, Christopher Houlihan, at St. John’s Church earlier in October.

“A lot of firsts are associated with it. It was the first time that we performed as a whole orchestra at St. John’s. It was the first time we did the Poulenc Organ Concerto in our 84-year history and the first time we did the Saint Saens Organ Symphony as well. Christopher is a magnificent musician, and it was the first time Christopher played with the entire symphony. We had 67 musicians on stage,” said Leif Bjaland, the music director and conductor.

Doug Donato

The fall program then jumps to Christmas time. On Dec. 10, the Hartford Chorale will be performing Hallelujah!: Handel’s Messiah, at Naugatuck Valley Community College, and on Dec. 11 at St. Anthony of Padua’s in Litchfield.

After the festivities, the orchestra prepares for March 5 — when there will be an all-Mozart program with two guest artists, violinist Benjamin Baker and violist Jordan Bak, at 3 p.m. at Naugatuck Valley Community College.

One of the pieces named Ballet Music from Idomeneo, K. 367 “encapsulates all that was great about the Enlightenment,” said Bjaland. “It’s a conversation between the viola and the violin. In my imagination, it’s a conversation about life, science, and human existence, and there's something so amazing about that piece that shows Mozart’s wit.”

April starts with childhood fun, and ends with a deep racial retrospective. On April 1, the orchestra has a live in-sync performance of E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial at Palace Theatre.

Then, the Palace Theatre shifts to Fortune: A Celebration of Black Music, at 4 p.m. on April 29.

It’s an educational performance to tell Waterbury’s history of an African-American enslaved man, known as Fortune, in the late 1700s whose remains were finally laid to rest in a Waterbury cemetery 215 years later.

Poet Marilyn Nelson wrote a “poetic commemoration of the life” of Fortune called Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem. The event “uses the voice of Fortune, his wife, his children, and community members to write a cantata using the text,” said Bjaland.

The performance also includes classic jazz from the 30-50s along with a version of the Manumission Requiem led by vocalist Marianna Vagnini.

“Going to see a live orchestra on stage and hearing them perform is a transformative experience no matter what,” said Donato.

The Waterbury symphony will end their season on May 21 with Symphonic Summit at 3 p.m. at Naugatuck Valley Community College, which features modern and classic masterpieces.

The American Songbook Project, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the Woodward Chapel in Watertown, has been postponed for the summer “due to challenges related to participant availability.”

“We work with up-and-coming vocalists to coach them to culminate it into a final performance,” Donato said.

Janet is a former news intern at WSHU.