Nov 8, 2021
As the Genesee Symphony Orchestra was preparing for its 75th anniversary celebration show, Conductor and Music Director S. Shade Zajac’s first thought was to turn to the music from the first show — when the GSO was known as the Batavia Civic Orchestra.
“When I first put together this program, I thought maybe I would do a recreation of the very first program, but that didn’t really fit with what we are celebrating in this season, which is ‘Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’ — honoring our past, celebrating our present and looking forward to our future,” Zajac said the day before he and the orchestra took the stage Saturday at Genesee Community College’s Stuart Steiner Theatre.
Instead, Zajac said, the program was a mix of pieces the orchestra has played in the past. The pieces GSO performed included “Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila” by Mikhail Glinka, “Die Meistersinger” by Richard Wagner, “Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra” by Mozart, “Prelude and Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni, “A Simple, Beautiful Idea” by Nancy Petterson Strelau and “Hungarian Rhapsodies no. 2” by Franz Liszt.
Zajac said last weekend’s concert was special.
“We’ve been talking about this season for years,” he said. “Roxie Choate, the president and personnel manager, and I, I forget how many years we’ve been talking about it and sharing ideas. When the pandemic hit, we didn’t know exactly if we were going to be able to pull it off, but here we are.”
Zajac said he is thrilled to be able to work with the orchestra.
“This orchestra is fantastic. Being the face of the orchestra is really wonderful, but when it comes down to the end of the day, it’s 75 seasons of this orchestra and not Shade Zajac,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve accomplished and I know that there’s even more to come.”
Interim Concertmaster Julia Plato of Rochester said she was honored to be part of the anniversary performance.
“When I auditioned for the role of concertmaster, I had no idea that it was the 75th anniversary, so it makes it all the more special now that I know ...” she said.
On Friday night, while rehearsing for the final time, Plato said the GSO was more than ready for the show.
“I think we have a great group of people here and that we’re going to put on a great concert,” she said. “We had our last concert at the beginning of October, so we took a week off and we rehearsed since then.”
Marjorie Fulmer of Le Roy, principal flute player, said a good crowd was expected and that quite a few of her family and friends from Le Roy planned to come.
“I’ve actually played for the orchestra for 36 years,” she said. “I was president of the board for awhile, so it’s been a big part of my life for a long time and we’re just excited to celebrate the 75th year.”
Fran and Tom Wigton of Batavia were in the audience for Saturday’s performance. Fran Wigton estimated they’ve been going to GSO shows for between 25-30 years.
“We’ve seen them at the (Batavia) Middle School. We’ve seen them perform here at GCC, St. Mary’s Church, the Episcopal Church, Centennial Park, Elba High School auditorium and Byron-Bergen,” they said.
Tom Wigton said, “We try to go to every one that’s available to us.”
Fran Wigton said they like that the orchestra is local.
“It’s the performers,” she said. “They’re very talented local musicians and we like to support local, the local culture and arts.”
Fran Wigton said they’ve been reading the articles on the orchestra about the 75th anniversary. The first show, Nov. 6, 1947, by the Batavia Civic Orchestra, took place at Dipson’s Batavia Theater, with Jan Wolanek as the conductor, assisted by tenor Samuel Pascal and pianist Sebastian Fasanello.
“I think everybody’s looking forward to it just because of COVID, post-COVID, being able to enjoy live performances,” she said.
Tom Wigton said it was nice to have the 75th anniversary show in a small auditorium.
“The acoustics are fantastic and it’s local culture and arts, so we’re just glad to be able to support them,” he said.
Fran Wigton said they know a few orchestra members such as Pamela Wentworth, who plays the piccolo.
“She was a coworker of each of ours, teaching,” Fran Wigton said. “Marjorie Fulmer, I talk with her.”
The Wigtons also said they were friends with former GSO member Dave Funston, who passed away last year.
Junelle Smith of New Bethlehem, Pa., was seeing her first GSO performance Saturday.
Smith said she attended the show because her daughter, Beth Hancock, was one of the violinists. Smith said she wasn’t familiar with the history of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra. She said she was looking forward to Saturday’s show.
“Where I live in Pennsylvania, I don’t have much chance to go to an orchestra,” she said. “Orchestras are very important for communities.”
Smith said she was excited about the show’s program and wanted to here oboist and guest soloist Mia Fasanello. According to the program, Fasanello is completing her bachelor of music degree at The Julliard School. She was a soloist with the GSO in 2017, playing Vaughan Williams’ “Oboe Concerto in A minor.” Fasanello studied often with internationally acclaimed flutist Carol Wincenc and spent several summers studying at the Chautauqua Institution as part of the Music School Festival Orchestra.