Violinist Elmar Oliveira helps kick off Symphony Syracuse’s new legacy in high style
By Jessica Novak
Not long after the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra declared bankruptcy on May 10, several members of the unemployed ensemble received phone calls from a friend of the orchestra who was willing to offer his help. It wasn’t just any friend who reached out, either: It was Elmar Oliveira, one of the most well-known violinists on the planet.
Four months later, Symphony Syracuse—the group founded by former SSO members three days after bankruptcy was declared—will be performing with the world-class musician. The concert, set for Sunday, Oct. 9, 2:30 p.m. at the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater, 411 Montgomery St., will feature Oliveira on Camille Saint-Saens’ “Violin Concerto No. 3.”
The new symphony will be led on Sunday by conductor Stewart Robertson, music director emeritus of Glimmerglass Opera. The concert will open with Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture” and close with Ludwig von Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.” Symphony Syracuse will next bring the concert to Ithaca College’s Ford Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 10, 8:15 p.m.
Although Symphony Syracuse performed several free summertime events, this is the group’s first large-scale classical concert. “We played the parks concerts for free because we thought it was important for the community to see that the musicians were still here and we wanted to do what we could to keep a presence,” says Jon Garland, a French horn player as well as the chair of Symphony Syracuse. “Nearly 2,000 people had given more than $700,000 to the SSO to keep it going and we know that the community was very interested in sustaining the symphony and the musicians. Now that we’re going into the winter, our focus is on trying to get the full orchestra back and going.”
Oliveira’s offer helped spark the energy needed to get activity with the orchestra moving again as Garland notes, “It’s a group effort by all of us.” Although the musicians will receive a small payment for the performance, all of the administrative duties needed to organize such an event were given on a volunteer basis. Oliveira’s time and talent are also being donated.
Regardless of the struggle, Garland as well as violist Marywyn Kuwahinma and violinist Anita Gustafson are extremely excited for the opportunity to play again with Oliveira, who was a guest soloist with the SSO most recently in 2003 and 2009. Kuwahinma and Gustafson share a long history with Oliveira; not only did the musicians study with him at the Manhattan School of Music during the 1970s, Oliveira contacted them last May to help resurrect the orchestra.
“He’s an international artist of great magnitude and he’s played all over the world,” Kuwahinma says about her longtime pal. “And he’s a gem.”
Oliveira’s distinguished resume includes being the first and only American violinist to win the Gold Medal at Moscow’s prestigious Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1978. (“We’re very fortunate to have him perform with us, considering how his career exploded since he won the Tchaikovsky Competition,” Kuwahinma notes. “It does that for an artist.”) He has also been recording and performing works that include the violin sonatas of Respighi and Pizzeti, the complete Brahms sonatas with pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, and the “Tower Concerto,” which was composed for him by Joan Tower, with the Louisville Orchestra. Oliveira has premiered works by composers Morton Gould, Aaron Kernis and Ezra Laderman; in Laderman’s case, he performed the piece with the SSO in Syracuse and at Carnegie Hall in 1988. He was also nominated for a Grammy in 1990 for his CD of the “Barber Concerto” with Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony.
“His playing is electric,” Gustafson gushes. “His playing is stunning, always has been. Elmar is a supreme virtuoso.”
In a phone interview with Oliveira from his home in Florida, he emphasized his love for the former SSO and his hope that his aid might help repair the organization.
“I realize that economic times are difficult right now and it is hard for orchestras to make ends meet and keep going, but it’s not as if there aren’t people that can support these orchestras and culture in this country,” he says. “It’s almost as if it’s just not as important as it should be. The arts, especially music, and especially in times like these, just adds a most important dimension to human life and to people’s environment and I think that people should really just come to support these orchestras.”
Oliveira’s generous offer also speaks to the national recognition of the SSO’s implosion, something that Garland hopes will resonate. “Elmar is going out of his way to come here and it really shows how important it is, not just to Syracuse, but the whole country,” Garland says. “To have people come from outside the area saying the death of a symphony orchestra is a terrible thing and we really have to all try to pull together to keep it going and get something started that’s sustainable. . . I think it’s a chance for the community to come and support the musicians and show how much they want to have a professional orchestra in Syracuse.”
Tickets for the concert are $15, $25 and $40; students with IDs pay $10, while seniors can deduct 10 percent from the ticket price. For information, call the OnCenter box office, 435-2121, or visit www.ticketmaster.com or call (800) 745-3000.