The farmer in the orchestra steps into the spotlight for GSO finale

Apr 26, 2012

The farmer in the orchestra

The farmer in the orchestra steps into the spotlight for GSO finale 

Dennis Phelps will narrate 'Lincoln Portrait' at Sunday concert

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012 2:45 am | Updated: 11:28 pm, Wed Apr 25, 2012.

Dennis Phelps' average day begins before 6 a.m. on the family farm in the town of Alabama, when he jumps on his tractor and heads to the fields or cow barns.

But each Monday night from September through April, Phelps lays down his pitchfork for a trombone.

Phelps is a member of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, which presents the final concert of its 65th season at 4 p.m. Sunday in the auditorium at Elba Central School, 57 South Main St.

The local farmer, a Genesee County native and graduate of Oakfield-Alabama Central School, is one of two featured performers in the concert.

Phelps will narrate Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," a work the composer wrote in 1942 as part of a patriotic effort during World War II. The narration includes excerpts of Abraham Lincoln's great speeches, including the "Gettysburg Address."

Phelps has been a member of the orchestra for 19 years, but this is his first adventure as an orchestral narrator. He was chosen for the role on a recommendation by Bob Knipe, a member of the orchestra and its board.

"He said I had a perfect voice for the part," Phelps said. "I guess maybe yelling at the cows strengthened my voice. Besides, I have always liked Lincoln."

Taking after his father who played valve trombone, and his mother who played slide trombone, Phelps began playing trombone in the fourth grade and played in the high school band. At 16, he was invited to play with the Alexander Firemen's Band, in which he still participates.

A farmer is always busy, but he is never too busy or too tired to attend practice, Phelps said.

"After a hard day on the farm, music is a stress reliever," he said.

He enjoys playing under the direction of GSO Conductor Raffaele Ponti.

"Ponti is a good conductor and fun to work with," Phelps said.

Ponti said the local musicians, who come from all walks of life, help define the GSO.

"It is about taking the talent in our community and making it shine," said Ponti, who is completing his 14th season conducting the GSO. "When you attend a GSO concert, you are seeing your neighbors, your friends and your family. I'm very proud of the GSO. It is a model others should follow."

The Orchestra's second guest is internationally-known Roman Mekinulov, a native of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia, who will be featured on Saint Saens' Concerto No. 2 during the concert.

Mekinulov immigrated to the United States in 1989, earning bachelor's and master's degrees at the Julliard School of Music. He was appointed principal cellist of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 2001, where he has been featured numerous times as a soloist. He has been repeatedly invited to substitute in the New York Philharmonic by conductor Kurt Masur, who first directed Mekinulov at Julliard.

"He's a fabulous cellist, very charismatic," Ponti said. "It looks like he has a relationship with the cello the way he has it dancing on stage."

Ponti met Mekinulov though Joanne Falleta, conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Michael Ludwig, the BPO concertmaster who played with the GSO in a 2011 concert.

"Bringing in Roman is certainly a coup for our community," Ponti said of musician who has performed in Italy, Austria, Hungary and Germany, among other Europeans locales.

The program Ponti has chosen for Sunday's concert is an American salute, and is in very good timing, he said. It features eclectic music which appeals to everyone.

"It is well balanced and exciting," he said.

Other selections include Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," Ives' "Variations on America," Susa's "Hands Across the Sea" and "Washington Post," and from Bach PDQ, the humorous "1712 Overture."

A Quick Look

WHAT: "Musical Salute," the Genesee Symphony Orchestra's 65th season finale concert.

WHERE: Elba Central School auditorium, 57 South Main St., Elba.

WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday.

TICKETS: $12 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for students age 18 and younger or GCC students with a valid ID, or $30 for a family (parent plus children age 12 and younger). Tickets are available in Batavia at Roxy's Music Store, 228 West Main St., Enchanted Florist, 202 East Main St., Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council, 201 East Main St., and the Center for the Arts box office; Hi-Tek Graphics, 14 Water St., Oakfield; and Bank of Castile, 29 Main St., Le Roy. If available, tickets may be purchased at the door one hour prior to the performance.

ONLINE: www.geneseesymphony.com