Celebrate a longstanding local tradition of classical music with the Nittany Valley Symphony on March 26 at Eisenhower Auditorium. The Symphony’s Golden Jubilee Concert recognizes the group’s 50 years of performing for the community.
The concert opens with the fitting “Festive Overture” by Shostakovich, and then moves on to an array of powerful, moving pieces, from soloist Steven Smith’s performance of Brahms’ “Piano Concerto No. 1,” to “Symphonic Dances” by Rachmaninoff.
Three of the afternoon’s performers have been members of the orchestra for the entirety of its 50 years of existence — Diane Gold Toulson (flute), Jan Deihl, Mary Alice Graetzer and Grace Whitfield Steele (violins).
“We’ve evolved and we’ve become, we think, really good. ... I’m a violinist and also a board member. Actually I was there 50 years ago when they started, much younger,” Deihl said, laughing. “Now I chair a committee that’s trying to make the most of our 50th year.
“One of the show-off pieces for the orchestra is Rachmaninoff’s ‘Symphonic Dances.’ It’s very difficult work, but for the audience, very rewarding, because it’s got so much emotional tug to it,” she continued. “It’s got verve and ravishing melodies and has, I think, some of the tunes you hear when you watch old black-and-white movies. These mysterious, evocative, emotional things, and the wild emotions up and down, up and down — it’s all there in the music when you listen to it.”
Deihl said that Rachmaninoff isn’t the only impressive part of the performance, though.
“Steven Smith, professor of music at Penn State, retired now, is playing the ‘Piano Concerto No. 1’ by Brahms. He’s played a number of concertos with us over the years, and he’s unfailingly good, so perfect and so expressive,” she said. “I’m a violinist and I get to sit behind him and get to watch him .. and I just can see all of the tendons and sinews and muscles interacting as he’s producing this wonderful, wonderful piano music that comes out of the grand piano on stage.”
There are as many as 80 performers on stage at one time, depending on what a piece calls for. The group has been rehearsing weekly, with two extra rehearsals and another additional rehearsal for the strings.
“The music in the Rachmaninoff is especially challenging for violins ... it’s worth the work though. It’s fun to play once you know how,” Deihl said.
While the entire Symphony is looking forward to the event, the concert holds a special spot in the hearts of those who’ve stuck with the group for the long haul, including Deihl. When she came to Penn State 56 years ago, there was no orchestra.
“There wasn’t even much of a university orchestra, so I was really, really happy to hear of this group that was starting,” she said. “And it’s just grown into this most wonderful experience. I can remember when Pittsburgh Orchestra came and performed in Rec Hall. It was before Eisenhower was built, and I would go and get seats up in the bleachers above the orchestra so I could take my binoculars and try to read in my mind the first violin part as they were playing. So now I get to do it myself and someone else can look from behind and watch me play music.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Nittany Valley Symphony’s “Golden Jubilee”
- When: 4 p.m. March 26
- Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park
- Info: www.nvs.org