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Conductors’ Festival brings classical music, Brits to Danville

Catherine O’Shaughnessy of Chicago conducted the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra during a public rehearsal Thursday in Danville. Here she rehearses Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 with the young musicians.
Catherine O’Shaughnessy of Chicago conducted the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra during a public rehearsal Thursday in Danville. Here she rehearses Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 with the young musicians. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

This city is known for its Great American Brass Band Festival held each June. But the Boyle County seat is hosting another music festival through the end of July, and this one celebrates classical music.

The International Conductors’ Festival began Monday, July 18, and continues through July 30. It’s a series of concerts, public rehearsals and other events designed to expose the general public to Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and others.

On Thursday morning, the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra from Manchester, England, held a public rehearsal at Weisiger Theatre, an intimate venue within the Norton Center for the Arts on the Centre College campus. The orchestra worked with three different conductors on various pieces of music.

That gave the public a chance to see how different conductors put their personalities and individual stamps onto compositions.

For example, Reginald Houze, director of music and arts at a Methodist church in Weddington, N.C., gave multiple instructions to the 31-piece orchestra on how he wanted certain passages to sound.

“I used to say, ‘Don’t make a sound your mothers wouldn’t like,’” Houze told the musicians. “Then I realized I didn’t know the mothers of the people I was talking to. Now I say, ‘Don’t make a sound my mother wouldn’t like.’”

The symphony players said it was invigorating to work with different conductors.

“It’s difficult because they all want such different things,” said cellist Cara Janes, 22. “They have completely contrasting ideas. It’s good for us to learn to adapt to different conductors as well.”

“It’s great team-building and great for seeing different interpretations of pieces,” said Benjamin Garalnick, 20, a French horn player. “Most of us have never been conducted by an American conductor before. So it’s interesting to see the different techniques they use.”

“You have to be on your toes, so to speak,” said fellow French horn player Kieran Lyster, 20.

The festival was the idea of Jaemi Loeb, director of instrumental ensembles at Centre. She had attended a conductors’ workshop in Kiev, Ukraine, in 2013.

“Six months later, Ukraine erupted into revolution and I said, ‘Whoa! Danville’s not a war zone,’” Loeb said. “And having the resources of a university makes everything easier.”

Long story short, she was able to cobble together sponsors to raise about $60,000 for the event, and Centre agreed to house the performers in dorms and to act as a base for the festival.

Will the festival be an annual event?

“That’s the hope. That’s the plan,” Loeb said. “The biggest question is funding.”

Catherine O’Shaughnessy, who works with opera companies in the Chicago area, said she was impressed how Loeb scheduled performances at various locations, including a bank and local distillery.

“I think it’s a really great thing that she cared so much about the Danville community to incorporate performances throughout the area,” O’Shaughnessy said.

Joan Stansbury of Danville, a music educator, attended the public rehearsal on Thursday. Stansbury said she wanted to see how the conductors coaxed what they wanted from the orchestra.

“It’s just interesting to see the different styles,” Stansbury said.

Tim Lamm of Berea, who plays trumpet with the Madison Community Band, said he and his wife, Carol, enjoyed seeing how conductor Houze shaped the sound he wanted for a particular piece.

“I’d never seen a conductor work the violins and getting the balance right,” Lamm said. “It was really interesting. And with the Mozart symphony, I just have a better understanding about how that piece of music is put together.”

For a full schedule of the festival go to Centre.edu/icfdanville. Note one change: Because of anticipated hot weather, the free outdoor concert that had been scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday, July 23, at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill has been moved indoors to Weisiger Theatre at the Norton Center for the Arts.

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