Even in our Treasure State, silver is something to celebrate. And given that orchestra years are like dog years, the 25th birthday of the String Orchestra of the Rockies is a noteworthy milestone indeed.
" ‘Who knew' is almost our mantra," said Mary Ann Albee, a board member with the Missoula-based nonprofit orchestra. "Back in 1985, who knew that there would still be this wonderful gem of an orchestra that's filling the Music Recital Hall 25 years later? I think that's something worth shouting about."
The time for shouting comes on Thursday, March 25, when the SOR celebrates a quarter-century as this region's only professional-level, conductorless string orchestra, with a "Silver Soiree" at the DoubleTree Hotel. Featuring a program of chamber music performed by several SOR players joined by guest cellist Amit Peled and pianist Christopher Hahn, as well as a silent auction, desserts and champagne, the event promises - literally and figuratively - the icing on the cake in this landmark season for the orchestra.
It's a season that has already seen a visit by violinist William Preucil, the most high-profile soloist in the orchestra's history; a first-ever world music concert featuring Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man; and a holiday concert featuring Jason Abrams, the first professional countertenor to appear with a local orchestra.
"We definitely spent more (money) this year to bring in these special soloists," said SOR leader and violinist Margaret Baldridge. "So part of the reason for this event was to have a fundraiser, which we've never really done before. That evolved into this idea, where we offer a different type of concert than people might be used to."
At the center of it all is Peled, an Israeli-born cellist who teaches at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Md. A longtime friend of SOR artistic director and cellist Fern Glass Boyd and former artistic director Johan Jonsson, Peled appeared as a guest soloist with the SOR in 2002, 2004, and 2008.
During his 2008 visit, Peled asked Hahn, a UM piano professor, to accompany him as he rehearsed for an upcoming concert appearance in Chicago. The two in turn became friends as well, and talked of touring together.
Last year, talk turned to plans, and Peled decided to come to Montana for a short tour. Around that same time, the SOR was beginning to discuss its Silver Soiree.
What resulted was a classic you-got-your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate moment.
"The dates of the two events were already close when we were just talking about it, so we just decided to work it all in together," recalled Hahn, who has previously appeared as a harpsichordist on occasional SOR concerts. "I'm just honored to have the opportunity to learn and grow as a musician with players of this caliber; it's going to be fun to put it all together for this concert."
Peled and Hahn will perform Dmitri Shostakovich's Sonata in D Minor for cello and piano. Hahn will also lend his fingers to performances of Handel's Sonata for Two Celli and Piano (with Boyd), and Tsintsadze's Five Pieces on Folk Themes for Cello & Piano.
In addition, Peled will be joined by Baldridge and Mary Papoulis on violin, Jennifer Smith on viola, and Boyd on cello for performances of Schubert's Quintet in C Major for Two Violins, Viola, and Two Celli; and Couperin's Pieces en Concert for Solo Cello & String Quartet.
Baldridge said she hopes the birthday party will stand as a treat to both listeners and musicians - as is the goal with every SOR concert.
"This orchestra is a very close-knit group," said Baldridge, who joined the SOR when she arrived in Missoula in 1992. "I think the fact that we're so many of the same people over time is really unusual for any ensemble of this size. There's not been a lot of turnover, we've been a pretty constant core of players over the years. Within that, there's a lot of freedom of expression, freedom to program music that isn't just the standard stuff you hear on the radio. So I think this orchestra is really quite unusual in the world."
"I think we all feel like we have such support from our audience right now and the board (of directors) is great and the core of players is excited to try new things," Baldridge continued. "So we're looking toward the next 25 years and wanting to do more new and interesting things."
Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.