GSO opening 70th season with new conductor

Oct 13, 2016

The Genesee Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening concert, “New Beginnings,” is aptly titled, since it reflects the first note of a new opus. It is the inaugural concert under new conductor and musical director S. Shade Zajac.

Zajac, the 22-year-old virtuoso, earned the job this past spring after auditioning last season. He replaces Raffaele Ponti, who held the position for 18 years.

“New Beginnings” is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday at St. James Episcopal Church, 405 East Main St. and will feature a diverse program selected by Zajac.

“The challenge for the conductor in programming is balancing what you want to do, what the orchestra should do and what the audience would enjoy listening to,” Zajac said. “You take all of that into consideration.”

Zajac started with Rimsky-Korsakov’s challenging “Scheherazade,” a symphonic suite that tells the story of the 1,001 Arabian Nights. From the Festival of Baghdad to Sinbad sailing the seas, the tales weave through a piece that highlights most sections of the orchestra.

“It’s also about the sultan, who was going to execute a new wife every day until there were no candidates left,” Zajac explained. “She, by telling him a story and leaving it incomplete until the following evening, managed to put off the execution for 1,001 nights. Then he decided not to.

“Musically, it’s a very important piece for this orchestra to do, because it features a lot of people in the orchestra. There’s a big violin solo that every violinist dreams of playing. There are cello, clarinet, horn and bassoon solos. It really features the whole orchestra. I work from big to small, and I knew I wanted this to be my big piece.”

From there, Zajac added a newer, local piece in Dana Wilson’s “Shortcut Home.” Wilson is a music professor at the Ithaca College School of Music and will attend the concert at Zajac’s invitation.

Since the only way to acquire Wilson’s music is to contact him directly, Zajac picked up the phone. It helped that he had met Wilson years earlier and that his grandfather knew the composer.

“I just said ‘Hey, since you’re kind of local, would you like to come to the concert,” thinking he has heard this piece about a million times,” Zajac said. “He said yes, so he and his wife will be at the concert. It’s really wonderful to have a living, breathing composer in the room.

Rounding out the program are two concertos chosen by winners of the annual GSO Young Artist Competition. Jackie Hager, a 15-year-old cellist from Brighton will perform Lalo’s “Concerto in D Minor.” Jarod Yap, a 16-year-old pianist from Clarence, will play Schumann’s “Concerto in A Minor.”

The other competition winner, Amelia Snyder, will perform during the GSO’s Dec. 11 concert.

“We had three Young Artist winners this year when we usually have just one,” Zajac said. “So I had to split them over two concerts. These two felt like the best contrast for this concert.”

Sunday’s concert will actually be the third time Zajac as taken the podium in front of the GSO. He led last year’s season-opener for his audition and conducted a scaled down version of the orchestra during the Summer Serenade concert in August. But new beginnings is the official start to his GSO tenure.

“I’m very excited, and I think it’s an amazing opportunity to do this,” he said. “I wake up and go ‘I got the job; I have somewhere to be on Monday.’ But there is a little bit of good pressure on me.”

Tickets for the concert are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $7 for students and $35 for families (parents and children ages 12 and under) and are available through DailyNewsTickets.com and GeneseeSymphony.com.