YOUNGSTOWN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Commissioned work will highlight season

By Guy D’Astolfo

The season starts Sept. 12.

YOUNGSTOWN — The 2009-10 season of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra opens Saturday with a pops concert.

So where is Randall Craig Fleischer, the music director and conductor, this weekend?

Where else, but at the Canfield Fair.

Actually, Fleischer is manning the YSO’s booth at the fair. It’s the first time the orchestra has had a presence at the annual six-day event, and Fleischer is there to help generate interest in the YSO.

This season will be the third for Fleischer, a Canton native and resident of California.

While he has lead the YSO into new endeavors the past two years — including children’s concerts, and a joint performance with rockabilly band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy — this year will be highlighted by one of the boldest concerts in the symphony’s long history.

On March 20, the YSO will perform the world premiere of a newly-commissioned work by noted composer Chris Brubeck, who is the son of jazz great Dave Brubeck.

The concert at Powers Auditorium will also feature guest artists Time 4 Three. The trio is “the hottest thing in classical music,” said Fleischer during a phone interview from the fairgrounds. “They combine elements of funk, jazz, hip-hop and bluegrass. It is an electrifying musical language that they are writing for themselves.”

The commissioning process was spearheaded by Fleischer, who enlisted seven other orchestras, including the renowned Boston Pops. The cost is being split evenly among the eight. The other orchestras will also perform the piece, but Youngstown audiences will hear it first.

Fleischer was able to put together the musical consortium because he has conducted each orchestra in the past. The other participants include the San Diego Symphony, the Colorado Musical Festival, and the Anchorage Symphony.

“This is of a major national scope,” said an excited Fleischer.

Commissioning work is becoming a habit of the YSO. Last season, the orchestra premiered a piece by composer Gregory Prechel, which was inspired by the masterpieces at the Butler Institute of American Art.

Other highlights this season will include the Holiday Spectacular on Dec. 12, which will feature guest vocalist Susan Egan, who played the role of Belle from the Broadway production of the Disney smash “Beauty and the Beast.” The Youngstown Connection song-and-dance troupe, Kenny Eldridge and the Jesus Celebration Singers and dancers from Ballet Western Reserve will also be part of the concert.

“It will be a huge production, with a major Broadway star,” said Fleischer.

The other two pops concerts will also be graced by Broadway talent. Saturday’s event, “Broadway Now!,” will feature vocalist Rob Evan, an original cast member of “Jekyll & Hyde” and a Trans-Siberian Orchestra singer; and Broadway veteran Capathia Jenkins.

The Symphonic Valentine concert on Feb. 13 will feature the Joe Augustine Trio and Anne Runolfsson, who was in “Phantom of the Opera.”

Orchestras across the land have been hard-hit by the recession, and the YSO is no exception. The number of performances has been reduced, and the orchestra is not at full strength in terms of number of musicians.

Nevertheless, Fleischer — who volunteered to take a cut in salary — said the upcoming season will be fantastic.

“We have gotten lean and mean,” he said. “It will be a smaller-sized orchestra, and there will be fewer concerts, and we’ve also made administrative cuts. But we’re still presenting a world-class series at an absolutely affordable price.”

Fleischer pointed out that some tickets for last season’s premiere of Prechel’s composition could have been had for less than $20. “Tickets for the same concert at the Cleveland Orchestra would have started at $75,” he said.

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