Punta Gorda Symphony and Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall exterior, 1899
Carnegie Hall exterior, 1899

It was a delight to attend this event. The renowned Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute program was founded in 2003 and has since, through the arts, touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world.

Hundreds of third graders and their teachers from around Charlotte County streamed in, excitedly clutching their recorders in anticipation of an event for which they had been preparing for weeks. Dressed smartly in formal garb, the marvelous Punta Gorda Symphony was waiting for our host, orchestra conductor, and director, Maestro Raffaele Livio Ponti.

As the children excitedly entered the theatre, I reflected on the colossal efforts of the Punta Gorda Symphony, Maestro Ponti, the staff at each school, and Carnegie Hall in nurturing the next generation to appreciate and enjoy the performing arts that have enriched life and culture for centuries. Today’s event represents dedication at the highest order, clearly in line with Andrew Carnegie’s vision of giving back in gratitude for all he achieved in America.

The children were ready, studying today’s musical works and practicing for their performance roles at this prodigious event.

With the traditional A-440 tuning note provided by the oboe for the Orchestra, instruments tuned, and the audience hushed, Maestro Ponti led the ensemble through Mozart’s exciting Overture to The Marriage of Figaro (1786). Mozart described this opera as a dramma giocoso, or humorous drama. It is an exciting, charming work from one of history’s greatest composers with a legacy that shines as brightly today as it did in the late 18th century.

Maestro Ponti described the Overture and introduced the instrument groups on stage that compile an orchestra: strings, winds, brass, and percussion. Each group performed separately and then together to demonstrate their timbre and expressive power, using a special orchestral arrangement delineating their unique tone colors and sounds when performing together.  

In state-of-the-art 21st-century fashion, ideas Maestro Ponti discussed appeared on two large screens on each side of the stage. Children were treated to both aural and visual cues to fortify enjoyment and understanding.

Orchestra principal clarinetist Stacey McColley came to the front of the stage and demonstrated the sound of a recorder using the melody “Mary Had a Little Lamb. As every child was holding a recorder, this created great excitement. The recorder is a musical instrument with a history from the Middle Ages in Europe. Children frequently study the recorder to develop a foundation of essential music performance and reading skills that inform learning other orchestral or band instruments. Its fingerings are like those in the woodwind family of instruments (e.g., piccolo, flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone).

Maestro Ponti led the children in singing along with the Orchestra in triple time to Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube. They sang while reading scrolling musical notation projected on the screens, in a style akin to “follow the bouncing ball” singing first seen in movie theaters about a century ago.

The Orchestra began its rendition of Danzon No. 2  by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez. Maestro Ponti turned several times to face the audience, cueing the children to stand and dance along, which they did with abandon. As the Orchestra drove the Latin beat, Ponti demonstrated his own dancing techniques, which the children in various forms swiftly imitated. Joyfulness, smiles, and exhilaration abounded.

And now, the pièce de resistance, for which the children have eagerly awaited. They assembled their recorders and focused their attention on the scrolling notation on the screens. They gleefully and skillfully accompanied the Orchestra’s performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Barcarolle. Hearing hundreds of children perform while reading the music and observing notated rests was delightful.

A favorite with audiences since the 19th century, Maestro Ponti led the audience into singing the opening four-note motif from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. He explained how the composer created this masterpiece by building on this simple arrangement of four notes. The Orchestra performed the work’s opening as the children carefully listened.

Maestro Ponti has a marvelous way with an audience of children and adults alike. He is informative, charming, and expressive. The continued enthusiastic applause of appreciation at today’s event was well-earned. The forty-five-minute span of the program was just right, and the variety of activities kept the children fully engaged. Today’s concert was memorable, valuable, and enjoyable for children and adults alike.

You can purchase tickets for upcoming events here or at the Orchestra’s website at https://www.pgsymphony.org/. For their season calendar, go here or to https://www.pgsymphony.org/calendar/

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Tales and TransformationThe Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Between Sea and Sky: Debussy’s Painters and Poets, and The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony performs Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.  

André Rieu conducting The Blue Danube Waltz

Punta Gorda Symphony and Carnegie Hall

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