By BOB JACKSON
It’s not often that a church event becomes the hottest ticket in town.
But Tuesday night, the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra brought that to St. Patrick Church on the city’s South Side as it performed outside the confines of its traditional venue for the first time in about a quarter-century.
The orchestra’s performance was part of a celebration marking the church’s centennial anniversary, which was Sunday.
“It’s highly unusual,” said Michael David Gelfand, who conducted the orchestra Tuesday. “We are usually at our home in Powers Auditorium.”
Gelfand, a music professor at Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music, said it has been some 25 years since the YSO performed anywhere other than Powers. Having a chance to perform in the cavernous, Gothic-style church was as exciting for the musicians as it was for the more than 500 people of every ilk and age who packed the building to listen, he said.
Besides being on the YSU music faculty, Gelfand also is music director and conductor of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra in Greenville, Pa., and has been YSO’s principle cellist since 1975.
Having the orchestra come to the church for a road performance was the brainchild of the church’s pastor, the Rev. Ed Noga, said Dr. Fred Kurz, chairman of the church’s centennial committee.
“Father Noga is a big promoter of the symphony and a huge cheerleader of Youngstown in general,” Kurz said. “He arranged this, and once word got out, we sold out in a flash. The tickets were gone in no time.”
Jim Hay of Boardman said he isn’t a St. Pat’s parishioner but came to the concert because his mother and seven aunts grew up in that church, and his parents were married there, so he’s historically supported events sponsored by St. Pat’s.
“The symphony will be great,” he said just before the performance began.
Friends Debbie Rodway and Loretta Moore, both of Youngstown, said they came to the performance because they both enjoy attending the symphony at Powers and they have ties to the church.
“I grew up across the street and I’ve come here all my life,” Moore said. “St. Pat’s does so much good for the community.”
Rodway said she and her husband, Ron, respect Father Noga and, “We feel like he’s sincere in what he’s trying to do for the community.”
St. Patrick’s and Father Noga are known throughout the community for their civic involvement, which Father Noga said goes back to the church’s earliest years.
“Our first pastor’s philosophy was that the church needed to be as much outside the walls as inside,” Father Noga said.
Bishop George V. Murry said the church was built by Irish immigrants, who largely made up its early congregation. But over time, the city’s demographics changed, and the church changed along with it.
“Tonight is a musical celebration of that,” he said. “I think it’s a testament to the fact that St. Pat’s has been so involved in the city of Youngstown for so long, and that it continues to be involved. And I see the concert as a way of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra saying ‘thank you’ to the church for being such a large part of Youngstown.”
Father Noga said the music selected for Tuesday’s performance was reflective of the wide range of cultural influences on the parish over the past 100 years. For example, “Selections from West Side Story” was intended to be representative of the city’s Hispanic culture. And Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” seemed an entirely appropriate selection to open the performance, given the church’s blue-collar history.
Father Noga said the church will continue to adapt to meet the needs of the community, and remain a vital part of positive change and growth in the city.
“This whole celebration is about looking ahead, not just looking back,” he said.
A highlight of the program was the YSO’s performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” which featured outstanding work by guest pianist Roman Rudnytsky, and resulted in the audience rising for a long, loud and enthusiastic standing ovation. Rudnytsky is a member of the piano faculty at the Dana School of Music and is considered a world-renowned piano virtuoso.
Mayor Jay Williams, who shared narration duties with Bishop Murry, joked afterward that he’s always associated that song with Delta Airlines, which used it for years in some of its well-known television commercials.
“Those 30-second commercials didn’t do ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ justice the way the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and [Rudnytsky] did just now,” Williams said.
Jim Johnston of Poland, who serves as one of the church’s musical directors, said afterward that he thought the concert was a huge success.
“I loved it,” said Johnston, who directs the church’s contemporary worship music choir. “I loved the variety and I loved the energy. I just thought they pulled everything together wonderfully.”