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Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to hold free concert

Symphony director strives for world-class performances on a shoestring budget

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 14, 2017, 6:03am
8 Photos
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will play a free concert in Esther Short Park on Thursday night.
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will play a free concert in Esther Short Park on Thursday night. The Columbian files Photo Gallery

What the world needs now, Igor Shakhman said, is “an unforgettable, transformational experience.”

Supplying such experiences is the mission of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the group’s executive director and lead clarinetist said.

“World-class is what we need to be, every time,” Shakhman said. “When I feel magic onstage, and I look out and see a sold-out house, I know we’re achieving our goal.”

You can enjoy a free sample of that transformational magic on Thursday evening in Esther Short Park, as the group is led through a people-pleasing program by maestro Don Appert, an award-winning conductor-composer and head of the Clark College music department.

Selections will include such rousing film scores as “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings”; John Philip Sousa’s patriotic march “Stars and Stripes Forever” and Aaron Copland’s infectious cowboy ballet “Hoedown”; and, the lively and fun “Overture to Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss and “Slavonic Dances” by Czech-turned-American Antonin Dvorak.

If You Go

What: Free concert by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

With: Don Appert, conductor; and Linda Appert, soprano

When: 6 p.m. July 20

Where: Esther Short Park, West Eighth and Columbia Streets

Also transformational will be a hands-on opportunity for children before the concert: from 5-6 p.m., Beacock Music will host a musical instrument “petting zoo,” where young folks can get friendly with real orchestra instruments under expert supervision.

“Our mission is both artistic and educational,” said Shakhman. This concert marks the beginning of a new artistic alliance between the orchestra and Clark College that’s just getting off the ground. “They have a strong artistic and educational presence in this town,” Shakhman said. “There’s a lot of overlap.”

Free? Not really

Thursday’s free VSO concert “is our gift to the community,” Shakhman said, but it’s anything but free for the VSO. Paying 70-plus musicians for two rehearsals and a performance, plus equipment rental and all other related expenses, means that staging this show could cost as much as $40,000, Shakhman said.

The VSO has a handful of major local sponsors and supporters, Shakhman said — including this newspaper — as well as plenty of individual donors and a “friends of” group. But it doesn’t have what many professional orchestras have: a permanent endowment to sustain it. As it begins its 39th season, the VSO still has an annual budget of under $1 million.

Shakhman is the VSO’s only full-time employee, and he’s constantly torn between raising dollars, keeping up with office work and drilling his own clarinet chops. The special guests the orchestra regularly welcomes to town — like violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and pianist Alexander Toradze — have a tough time believing him when he describes the VSO’s meager infrastructure, he said.

Shakhman said he loses sleep worrying what would happen if any of the current sponsors disappeared. And he dreams about scoring great new supporters who want to contribute tens of thousands or more, he said. Ticket sales and attendance are on the upswing recently, he gladly reported, but what the orchestra really needs is deep-pocketed partners.

After six years of managing the orchestra, he said, “It stopped being a job. It’s a lifestyle. I feel responsible to the community. It’s what I think about all the time.”

Rock star, pop hits

Don Appert of Clark College will conduct this free summer concert, but the VSO’s regular maestro is the charismatic Salvador Brotons, a real classical music “rock star,” who travels here frequently from his home in Barcelona, Spain.

Shakhman likened Brotons to a human battery recharger. “We are so fortunate to have Salvador, who possesses such intense charging ability. He is an incredibly emotional and passionate person” — and that passion is key to the orchestra’s excellence, Shakhman said.

Also key is a good balance of programming. Last year, the VSO hosted its first “pops” concert during the holiday season, emphasizing movie music from “Star Wars” to “The Pink Panther” and James Bond to “Titanic.” It was a tremendous success, of course, but you shouldn’t get the idea that movie scores are any less artistically demanding than straight classical fare, Shakhman said.

This year, Shakhman said, the VSO will perform two “pops” concerts — “winter classics” in December, featuring selections from “The Nutcracker” as well as the movie “Frozen” — and an April “adventures in film and fantasy” program, spanning everything from “The Magnificent Seven” to “Legend of Zelda,” a popular video game series.

February will see the American debut of a trombone concerto by Brotons, with special guest soloist David Rejano Cantero, principal trombonist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. And June will see the return of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” a legendary tour of the solar system that’s rendered even realer thanks to a 3D video presentation employing NASA space photography.

“I saw it and it just blew my mind,” Shakhman said.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 39th season

To buy concert tickets and learn more about the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, visit www.vancouversymphony.org or call 360-735-7278. Here’s the 2017-2018 schedule.

Orchestra concerts

Where: Skyview Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St.

When: 3 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets: $38, $50 reserved; $34 seniors and $10 students; packages available.

Sept. 30 and Oct. 1: Dvorak’s “Two Slavonic Dances,” Ravel’s “Tzigane for Violin & Orchestra,” Saint Saens “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” (with guest artist Anne Akiko Meyers, violin), Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances.”

Nov. 4 and 5: Mussorgsky’s “Persian Dance,” Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto no. 3” (with guest artist Alexander Toradze, piano), Stravinsky’s “The Fairy’s Kiss” and “Firebird Suite.”

Dec. 9 and 10: Holiday pops, “Winter classics” including “The Nutcracker,” “Frozen” and “Viennese Waltzes.”

Jan. 27 and 28: Haydn’s “Farewell” and Dvorak’s “New World” symphonies.

Feb. 24 and 25: Brahms’ “Tragic Overture,” Salvador Brotons’ “Trombone Concerto” (with guest artist David Rejano Cantero, trombone) and Beethoven’s Third Symphony.

April 14 and 15: Spring pops, “Adventures in Film and Fantasy.”

June 2 and 3: “Young Artists Competition” gold medalists, Holst’s “The Planets” 3-D experience.

Chamber series: Small group concerts

Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St.

When: Sundays at 3p.m.

Tickets: $25, $10 for children; packages available

Oct. 22: Piano Extravaganza

Nov. 19: Legacy series (past Young Artists return)

Jan. 21: VSO goes to the movies

March 18: Celtic Celebration

May 20: VSO goes back to the movies

June 17: The Magic of Opera with soprano Christina Kowalski 

Young artists: 24th annual student musician competition:

When: 1 p.m. Feb. 11

Where:  Trinity Lutheran Church, 309 W. 39th St.

Admission: Free