For its first program of the 2013-14 season, the New Philharmonic is going all Mozart with its aptly titled program, “Amadeus.”
The usual home of the 80-member professional ensemble, the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, is still under renovation so the goup is playing in a smaller space at Gary United Methodist Chuch in Wheaton.
The program features the composer’s final work Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter,” combined with Piano Concerto No. 27, which was his last piano concerto. “I call it Mozart’s last and his best,” said Kirk Muspratt, music director and conductor of the ensemble. “The ‘Jupiter’ concludes with four fantastic fugues, and we have a wonderful young soloist for the piano concerto.”
Her name is Nadia Azzi and Muspratt first heard her play several years back when he was driving his car and listening to WFMT. “I thought, what a fine pianist and I remembered her name,” he said. “I think she was 12 then.”
Azzi, who lives in Florida, began popping up more and more in the Chicago area. “She was on city television from PianoForte,” the maestro continued, “and I started making phone calls. She made her Carnegie Hall debut when she was 12. Turns out she studied with Mary Sauer of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”
He also heard her on NPR’s “From the Top,” a weekly show that highlights the best pre-collegiate music students in the country.
In December 2011 Azzi competed in and won the Open Junior Division of Midwest Young Artists’ Walgreens National Concerto Competition. “Finally, I contacted her and she played for me,” he said. “Orchestras like ours have to get people on their way up and believe me, Nadia has an abiding talent. She is already ready for this concert.”
One of the players will be Carolyn May of La Grange, who is now in her 37th year as principal flutist with the New Philharmonic. “I had been playing in a band and you know bands — they have 20 flutes! I wanted to do more and my husband saw the audition notice for the New Philharmonic in the paper.”
She made a date to audition with the orchestra’s founder and music director Harold Bauer, but she almost didn’t make it. “I was late for my 5:30 audition,” she remembered, as if it had happened yesterday. “I got into rush hour traffic on Roosevelt Road and didn’t get there until 6:30. Fortunately, Harold waited for me, and I’m so glad he did! To this day, I treasure playing in New Philharmonic and have only missed one concert in 37 years due to the birth of a child. I never take my position for granted.”
May teaches beginning band La Grange Elementary District 102 and is on the applied music staff at College of DuPage.
She admires her orchestral colleagues. “Everyone is very good, they don’t get in if they’re not,” she said. “So we are able to play beautiful classical music.”
Muspratt is also artistic director and music director of the Dupage Opera Theatre, music director of the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra and the South Shore Summer Music Festival. And he is particularly eager that audiences know something about the composer and his times before he begins the program.
“I have Kirk’s Klassical Bootkamp,” he said, laughing, “and I take questions from the audience. They put them in a violin case during intermission and after the concert I answer some of them.”
Subjects range from whether Mozart would have used a piano or a harpsichord for this piano concertos. (Answer, piano but they were much softer that pianos today.) If the questions are more complicated, such as recommending a good teacher for a fledgling violinist, he gets in touch with the questioner personally.
“I’m out in the lobby after the concert, like a preacher after the service,” he said. “I want my musicians there too. I want to engage with our audience and have them get to know us.”
May and others in the orchestra have been working for the past two years on developing a patrons group to provide additional financial support of the New Philharmonic. The ensemble has been “on the road” since the fall of 2012 when the College of DuPage began its $35 million renovation. Attendance declined so precipitously during that period that the balance of the 2012-13 season was cancelled. But members of the orchestra and the MAC staff sent pledge cards to possible patrons, with the goal of $150,000 annually, and to date 70 percent of the goal has been raised.
The McAninch Center reopens at the end of December and the New Philharmonic christens the site with a pair of concerts on Dec. 31 titled “Viennese Pops New Year’s Eve Celebration with an International Twist.”
Muspratt was not consulted on the design, but he did express one wish, which was granted. “The old theater had a big plastic shell for acoustics at the back of the stage,” he said. “I asked that there be a wooden shell, all one surface and one color. The stage now has a beautiful warm wooden shell in a dark walnut color. It looks very good.”
In addition to the New Year’s Eve concert at the MAC, the orchestra will also play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Symphony No. 7 on April 12 and 13. The title of that concert is “The Ultimate Rebel — Ludwig Van!”