Good Life

Michael Jinbo celebrates 25th year with Nittany Valley Symphony

Michael Jinbo makes final adjustments to his bow-tie in a dressing room at Eisenhower Auditorium before the Nittany Valley Symphony’s Sept. 22, 2009, concert.
Michael Jinbo makes final adjustments to his bow-tie in a dressing room at Eisenhower Auditorium before the Nittany Valley Symphony’s Sept. 22, 2009, concert. CDT file photo

The Nittany Valley Symphony has been a part of the State College community since 1967, spotlighting the area’s classical musicians. On Sept. 30, the symphony will kick off its 2014-2015 season and Maestro Michael Jinbo’s 25th year with the group as conductor and music direector.

This season’s theme is “Rapture” and includes selections celebrating music in all its richness and diversity — four classical concerts focusing on romantic lyricism, one pops concert and a family concert.

“I endeavor to pick pieces that will appeal to both the orchestra and the audience, and I invite fine soloists from the area to perform with us,” Jinbo said. “Our audiences will be seduced and serenaded, entertained and amused, and enthralled and inspired.”

The symphony has grown over the years, starting as a small group organized by the late Ann Keller. The symphony performed at the first Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in 1967. In its early years, the symphony performed in the State College High School Auditorium, where at times the orchestra outnumbered the audience. But the audience was loyal and the players continued to become better musicians.

Now performing in the Eisenhower Auditorium at Penn State, the symphony has benefited from the support it has received from several local businesses who continue to reach out to the community.

The Nittany Valley Symphony includes members of the community who are dedicated musicians, both amateur and professional. Jinbo said it gives him a great sense of pride to be able to lead such a wonderful group of people from the community. He is pleased with how much the orchestra has improved over the years and he enjoys integrating these different groups into a cohesive ensemble that performs at a high level.

“The players are very committed, they work hard and take great pride in what we have been able to accomplish together,” Jinbo said. “The orchestra’s enthusiastic energy projects beyond the proscenium to our audience. Over these past 25 years, I have enjoyed the many warm friendships that I’ve made within the NVS family.”

Because of the emphasis on the arts in the State College area, the symphony has the luxury of being selective about its musician pool.

“State College is certainly very fortunate to have the many cultural events that Penn State has to offer, and we are grateful to be able to draw from a pool of talent that includes students and faculty from the university,” Jinbo said.

He added that the symphony is truly a community organization.

“Our members are your friends, neighbors and co-workers,” Jinbo said. “Some are professional musicians, but many work in a variety of other occupations. The community aspect of the orchestra adds a feeling of personal warmth to each concert.”

Jinbo said it is his job to maintain the artistic vision of the orchestra, from now into the future, by presenting programs of the best music performed at the highest level. The Nittany Valley Symphony is always looking to build its audience, including introducing young people to classical symphonic music.

“Classical music often gets a bad rap for being too high brow,” Jinbo said. “We perform music that is beautiful, powerful and exciting, and we invite everyone to attend our concerts and be inspired. To hear some 70 musicians playing such glorious music together is a remarkable experience.”

The Sept. 30 concert, “Scandal and Seduction,” features violinist James Lyon playing Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor. The program also includes Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” a perennial audience favorite, and Barber’s lively Overture to “The School for Scandal.”

Later programs in the season include “Tin Pan Alley to Tinseltown” (Nov. 4), a symphonic pops concert featuring music by America’s great songwriters from Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood, including Geroge Gershwin, George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and others.

Two of the concerts will be held in State College in the Mount Nittany Middle School Auditorium, including “Beethoven 3-4-5” on Dec. 11, an all-Beethoven program that features three of the composer’s greatest works, including his famous Fifth Symphony and pianist Steven Herbert Smith playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major.

On Jan. 25, a family concert called “Remarkable Kids” also will be performed at the middle school — a narrated piece entitled “The Remarkable Farkle McBride,” featuring works by composers who were child prodigies, and performed by the winner of the Ann Keller Young Soloist Competition.

In late winter, the Nittany Valley Symphony returns to the Eisenhower Auditorium with “Passion Unbounded” (Feb. 24) featuring post-Romantic works by Jean Sibelius and horn soloist Lisa O. Bontrager performing Reinhold Glière’s Horn Concerto in B-flat major.

The final performance of the 2014-2015 season on April 25, called “Spanish Impressions,” is a Spanish-themed program filled with flamenco rhythms and evoking jasmine-scented nights, featuring pianist José Ramón Méndez and mezzo soprano Amanda Silliker.