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Orchestra of Northern New York Music Director and Conductor Kenneth Andrews.   Photo:  ONNY
Orchestra of Northern New York Music Director and Conductor Kenneth Andrews. Photo: ONNY

Orchestra of Northern New York celebrates silver anniversary season

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The Orchestra of Northern New York kicks off its 25th season this weekend in Potsdam and Watertown. The orchestra will perform Beethoven's 9th Symphony along with the combined choirs of the Potsdam Community Chorus and the Northern Choral Society. For many, the piece is among Beethoven's greatest works, and is considered by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written.

Todd Moe talks with music director and conductor Kenneth Andrews about 25 years of making music and conducting Beethoven. Andrews has led the Orchestra of Northern New York since it first began in 1988.

Saturday night's concert is in SUNY Potsdam's Hosmer Concert Hall at 7:30, and Sunday's concert is at 3:30 at Watertown's First Presbyterian Church. Tickets: 315-267-2277

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

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Andrews says there was something missing in the area before he started the orchestra. “At that time the only orchestras were Ottawa to the north, and Syracuse to the south, Rochester and Burlington, Vermont.”

There were obstacles for Andrews to overcome--one being no live orchestral music in the area. Second, musicians had to drive considerable distances to play; some even drove to Portland, Maine to perform.

Another mission Andrews had was to establish an orchestra for youths, and along with their partner, Community Performance Series, to bring orchestral music to children and families. Now there is a young artist competition, which Andrew describes as second to none in the United States. “Where else in the United States would a high school student be able to not only win money, but also play the concerto not once, but up to three times. That’s unheard of in the United States.”

These are hard times for orchestras, with many, such as the Detroit Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Utica Symphony, Syracuse Symphony and San Diego, all threatened by financial hardship. Andrews was astonished that the Philadelphia Orchestra declared bankruptcy last year, one of the oldest classical music institutions in the nation.

The Orchestra of Northern New York also faces financial issues, but Andrews believes they are doing very will with what they have. There are struggles, but Andrews believes the biggest is moving with the times.

He says that Florida still has a large audience for symphonies and orchestras due to the large senior citizen population that want to hear classical music. But throughout most regions of the country, orchestras are in a battle to innovate and reinvent themselves, to reach different aspects of culture and different listening tastes. “In our region we have a very assorted taste for music. When you are a symphony orchestra you have to find ways to get to all of them.”

Andrews stressed that you can’t go with a one-genre route; that you have to blend all the various types of music. Andrews admits he struggles with constantly trying to come up with programs that reach out to as many people as possible.

Andrews described Watertown’s First Presbyterian Church, the venue for Saturday’s performance, as being a beautiful place to play with wonderful acoustics. He compared it to the music scene in Prague, where many concerts are held in churches.

“Talking about this concert is like a dream, because this [Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony] is such special music.” What strikes Andrews the most is how “revolutionary” Beethoven was at this time--how he used the instruments, and how he used the chorus in the symphony in a novel way, and in terms of the harmony, how it paved the way for many other composers decades later.

It is hard to believe that Beethoven was hearing these sounds, when he had already given up to deafness years before, Andrews says, “Perhaps, because he was deaf, he couldn’t hear anyone tell him it couldn’t be done.”

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