Wyner celebrates 20 years
Warren Philharmonic Orchestra starts 54th season
WARREN — Susan Davenny Wyner didn’t think about how long she might stay as conductor and music director of the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra when she was hired in 1999.
“It didn’t occur to me to think that way,” she said. “I was so impressed in the value of the orchestra, its classical musicians and culture, the fine quality of the music making here … I was committed to not only making great music but serving the Warren community. I’ve gotten to know members of the community, musicians I so deeply admire, respect and love.”
The orchestra will honor Wyner for her 20 years as conductor with a dinner Friday at the Avalon Ballroom, and the orchestra will start its 2019-20 season on Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, Warren.
“No, I didn’t expect to be in Warren 20 years later, but the engagement was something that felt so vital and important,” she said. “What’s exciting and important is the orchestra is celebrating it 54th year, which is extraordinary. This organization values the importance of classical music.”
Natalie Sahyoun, a violinist with the orchestra and its concert manager, said Wyner can be described best by three words — world class sweetheart.
“She is the epitome of those three words,” Sahyoun said. “Warren is so lucky to have her care and attention.”
Wyner is proud of several things she and the orchestra have accomplished during her tenure, starting with the range of programming, playing works from the 18th century as well as pieces by contemporary composers.
Sunday’s concert will showcase that mix, featuring Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in D Major as well as “Upbeat!,” a 1998 composition by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.
“I’m proud of the outreach efforts — the school concerts, the music and art program, the Strings of Joy, the distance learning and state-of-the-art learning classes we did,” she said.
Those elements also will be on display this weekend. The orchestra will play two concerts Friday morning for area schoolchildren at Lakeview High School, and the winners of this year’s Art in Music Contest will be on view at First Presbyterian Church during Sunday’s concert.
“We’ve also been able to feature the rich talent in the northeast Ohio area … and also the joy of being able to bring in internationally recognized soloists to Warren, knowing they would be excited and surprised by the the quality of the music making,” Wyner said. “Each time the reaction was a kind of elation on their face once they heard our musicians.”
Those musicians have included Tchaikovsky Competition and Avery Fisher award winners as well as acclaimed local talent, like Warren native and Broadway veteran Austin Pendleton, who brought fellow Broadway stars Judy Kaye, David Green and Alice Playton to Warren for two concerts with the WPO.
Pendleton, who was part of the original Broadway cast of “Fiddler on the Roof,” said, “Susan Davenny Wyner came into my life when I had lost much hope for the very thought of my singing again in public. And with her warm, demanding, stern and joyous energy, she made that possible for me again.”
Wyner lives in Boston with her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Yehudi Wyner, and commutes here for concerts and rehearsals. Her work with the WPO led to her also serving as music director for Youngstown’s Opera Western Reserve.
OWR production director David Vosburgh said, “When we were creating Opera Western Reserve, we needed a conductor. One phone call to Susan Davenny Wyner gave us an excellent musician with experience as an opera singer and a knowledge of the local orchestral musicians. It has been a wonderful 15 years of collaboration and friendship.”
Sunday’s concert will feature selections from OWR’s next production, Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” with the orchestra accompanying soloists Erika Walker Duderstadt, mezzo-soprano; Sierra McCorvey, soprano; and Rebecca Enlow, soprano.
“That cross connection has been a very special one,” Wyner said. “It’s been interesting to bring artists from the opera over to perform with the orchestra.”
Sunday’s program also will include a late addition, opening with Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air” in memory of Warren attorney and long-time WPO board member and supporter Frank Bodor, who died last month.
“The creation of Strings of Joy, which put free string instruments into the hands of school children and gave them free instruction, was very much Frank’s vision,” Wyner said. “Some of those students are now playing in orchestras.
“His belief in the importance of the Warren Philharmonic’s existence and history as a legacy and for the future was dear to his heart and vital to the organization.”