“In every concert, there’s a lot of joy;” Great Falls Symphony season kicks off this weekend

The Great Falls Symphony’s 61st season is kicking off this weekend and the Chamber Music Series is already underway.

This year’s concert lineup includes “really good music,” according to Grant Harville, the musical director and conductor.

“In every concert, there’s a lot of joy,” Harville said.

After celebrating its 60th anniversary last season, symphony leaders were looking for ways to bring more variety to the community.

“If we don’t do something, there’s a good chance it’s not going to happen,” Harville said of bringing musical performances to the community.

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While symphonies nationwide tend to attract older crowds as season ticket holders, often because they have the time and money to commit to the purchase, younger people are equally welcome and finding their way to the concert hall.

“There’s no reason they wouldn’t love every note,” Harville said.

The symphony offers a young professional ticket package, which is available by calling the symphony office.

One of this season’s highlights is world renowned banjo player Béla Fleck, who has won 15 Grammys.

Harville said Fleck is “arguably the best banjo player on Earth, so getting him to Great Falls is a really big deal. He’s going to be on stage with our symphony and that’s really cool.”

Harville will continue his previews at noon on Thursdays at Great Falls College MSU the week of symphony concerts.

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The season opens with Legends on Oct. 5 and “nothing but epicness,” Harville said, including music from How to Train Your Dragon and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, as well as other pieces about legendary myths. The concert also features Benjamin Hodson, Great Falls native and 2019 winner of the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestra’s statewide competition.

The great value of music, Harville said, is “when you hear music created by someone else, you see the world through their eyes.”

The holiday concert will include a new work with lyrics by cowboy poet Paul Zarzyski and music by Harville, as well as a carol sing-along and the Symphonic Choir, celebrating its 60th anniversary.

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This season features two sopranos with Great Falls connections.

Stephanie Jennings is the daughter-in-law of Chuck and Gerry Jennings and will be performing in the April 25 concert, Gloria. Jennings has sung with the Houston Grand Opera and Dallas Opera for more than a decade and last performed with the Great Falls Symphony in 2016.

Caitlin Cisler is a long-time friend of Harville’s and will perform in the January 18 concert, Queen of the Night. She performed in Missoula in July and will be in Bozeman in May 2020.

The April 25 Gloria concert also includes a solo by Dorian Antipa, principal bassoonist with the Great Falls Symphony and a member of the Chinook Winds. He’ll be playing Bassoon Concerto, thought to be composed by Giaoacchino Rossini, though the piece’s origins are dubious, Antipa said. Rossini’s other works are well known from Looney Tunes.

“He was the James Cameron of his day,” Harville said of Rossini.

Thought to be written in the 1840s, the concerto was not discovered until the 1990s and making it newer music for bassoonists and is “interesting, playful,” Antipa said. “I think it might be an important piece in the future.”

Great Falls Symphony kicks off 60th season this weekend

Antipa has performed with orchestras in California, Connecticut and Illinois, as well as with the Helena and Billings symphonies, and is a bassoon professor at MSU-Bozeman.

He joined the Great Falls Symphony in 2016 and came here for the job. It’s an incredibly competitive market to find paid positions as musicians, but he said he was still selective in choosing the job in Great Falls.

Harville said the competitive nature of their field causes musicians to often go for a position, then see how it serves the community versus many other professions where people consider a community before taking a job.

Antipa said he’s spent a lot of time in big cities, but grew up in a town of about 11,000 where he had to drive an hour and 15 minutes each way to orchestra practice and his private lessons.

Great Falls is more similar to that town he said, being smaller and close knit, but there’s also a lot to do and you can get just about anywhere in town in about 15 minutes.

“It’s kind of amazing and I think kind of a unique blend of what it offers,” Antipa said of Great Falls.

The local symphony was more interesting than others, Antipa said, because of the Chamber Music component and level of educational programming.

“That’s not an accident, that’s not something everybody has,” Harville said. Instead, somewhere along the way, people decided that was important and invested in the program, he said.

The chamber music component includes two separate groups, the Cascade Quartet and the Chinook Winds. The groups are comprised of the principals in each instrument section who are the symphony’s paid core of nine musicians.

Each group plays three sets of concerts and this season, they’re doing something new by joining the two ensembles for a collaborative performance.

They’re also switching it up, changing the chamber music concerts to Fridays and Sundays this season.

The first concert for Chinook Winds featured a guitar player with Spanish influence. It’s not a common grouping of musicians, “it’s something different,” Antipa said.

It’s not just that we can so good things, “if we can do things that are inherently significant for not just Great Falls but for the music community, I think that’s important,” Harville said.

The challenge of smaller cities, particularly ones that are more geographically isolated, Harville said, is where do the human resources come from, but when people share an interest, such as music, a benefit is that “it’s much easier to create a community around that,” in a smaller city.

“When we say we’re a part of the community, we serve the community and that means something,” Harville said.

Throughout his career, Antipa has performed in a number of venues and he’s noticed, particularly at places like retirement homes, he frequently hears people say they used to play an instrument and their biggest regret was not sticking with it.

“There’s a lot of evidence of how enriching it is,” he said.

Antipa said even outside of musical careers, employers notice musical backgrounds since it shows dedication and hard work.

Music also provides freedom of expression while also teaching discipline, he said.

Harville said that since the advent of recording technology, where we can enjoy great music at the push of a button, causing a lack of understanding of what it really takes to create that music.

“There’s no way to be great at an instrument without practice,” he said. It’s something where greatness equates one to one to the amount of practice.

“It slows things down, which is very rare” in this modern hyper speed world, Harville said.

The value of their concerts, he said, it that it’s “just about that moment, when so few things are about that moment we’re in.”

Music also creates a great social experience for many, Harville said, where youth can find like-minded people in an activity that isn’t inherently competitive.

Though competition can be introduced into music, Harville said it’s also a place where there’s balance and a group succeeds together.

Antipa plays recreational hockey in town and he and some other musicians spend a lot of time at the Hi-Line Climbing Gym, which has grown their friend circle to rock climbers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts who now attend symphony  and chamber concerts.

He said that while it would be wonderful to have more people in the audience, “the community that we have is supportive and dedicated.”

Harville said that often as people age and their kids grow up, they start looking to invest in their communities, particularly the institutions that impacted their lives.

The symphony hosts annual family concerts, which focuses on children and younger adults. Not only is it fun and exposing those young people to the performing arts, it’s the kind of thing that people will look back on when they’re considering supporting the symphony, Harville said.