Atlantic Symphony plays the field
As its new concert season began this month with programs in three different venues, the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra continued to face the challenge of spreading its name without a single-community identity or a consistent home concert hall.
The regional music organization that bills itself as a symphony orchestra for the South Shore divides its full orchestra concerts between Duxbury’s Performing Arts Center and the Thayer Academy Center for the Arts in Braintree, with an additional visit to Boston’s Jordan Hall. Its solo and chamber concert schedule for the 2011-2012 season also includes dates in two Hingham churches, Duxbury’s archival library, and a restaurant in Hull.
“The South Shore community is really broader than the fragmented towns,’’ board member and former president Roy Harris said of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra’s evolution from the Hingham Civic Orchestra to its current identity as a professional orchestra for an entire region.
“Realistically, there is a problem with associating a musical organization with one town,’’ Harris said. “When you’re drawing people from other towns and performing in other towns, the name Hingham becomes a handicap. It’s going to be a confusing thing for these new audiences.’’
The orchestra’s board addressed the identity problem three years ago, changing the orchestra’s name to the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra. The new, ambitiously inclusive name was “a big leap,’’ Harris said last week.
“We bit off a big title, and I believe we’ve carried it off,’’ he said.
But a new name and varying venues still produces confusion among those who haven’t made the orchestra’s acquaintance. “We still do encounter it - ‘What is the Atlantic Symphony?’ ’’ Harris said.
The orchestra made the initial decision to raise standards and transform itself into a professional orchestra 13 years ago and hired current music director Jin Kim to do the job. Relying on a supply of strong youthful players from Boston’s music schools, Kim auditions each summer, weathers the inevitable turnover, and puts the orchestra into shape for a new season. This year the Atlantic has a new permanent concertmaster (first violin) in Ethan Wood.
The orchestra also discovered some first-rate performance spaces outside of Hingham. While a new name and new venues reflect changes that had already taken place, its “incomplete’’ integration into the two communities where it now mainly performs remains a challenge, said managing director Jim Hartford.
“We play in two bookend towns,’’ Hartford said. “We don’t have a big presence in Braintree and Duxbury, but those are great halls.’’
In Hingham, the orchestra had shoe-horned itself into venues that lacked either size or good acoustics. It now performs in halls with great acoustics, neither of which existed when the orchestra began to go professional. Duxbury Schools built its Performing Arts Center in the last decade to show off the school system’s ambitions. The restored Thayer Academy Center for the Arts Hall opened three years ago and promptly named the Atlantic as its resident orchestra.
But this is an orchestra that resides elsewhere as well.
The Atlantic opened its symphonic orchestra season last weekend at the Duxbury Performing Arts Center, with pianist Konstantinos Papadakis as guest soloist, performing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.’’
The next symphonic concert, the December festival program titled “Joyful Noise! Holiday Fireworks,’’ will take place at Thayer Academy. The program includes some Christmas music but is tilted toward festive offerings, including Handel’s “Fireworks,’’ Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances No. 1,’’ and an unusual holiday choice in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony - a work, the Atlantic promises, that “will burst open your holiday spirit.’’
Two symphonic programs will take place in March on consecutive nights, at Jordan Hall on March 30 and in Duxbury on March 31. Both programs include big symphonies by Beethoven and Shostakovich, but differ in offering a Liszt piano concerto (with guest soloist Hung-Kuan Chen) on the Jordan Hall date and the Bruch violin concerto (with Xiang Yu) in Duxbury. Yu made news last year by winning the prestigious Menuhin Competition in Norway after being nearly grounded by volcanic dust clouds in Iceland.
The final orchestral concert, the pops concert “Broadway Revue’’ in May, moves back to Thayer Academy.
The Atlantic’s upcoming solo and chamber programs take place at House of Prayer Lutheran Church, at Thayer, and at Bridgeman’s Restaurant in Hull.
In Duxbury, the orchestra needs to take advantage of “a huge, untapped demographic,’’ Hartford said. One of his goals is “to get people to understand that it’s $35 and free parking for a world-class performance.’’
“We’re getting name recognition,’’ Harris added. “It’s a real long-term kind of effort. You have to market and spread the word.’’
Hartford, who lives in Duxbury, sometimes “drags’’ friends to concerts. “The first time the baton drops, and so do their jaws,’’ he said. “They don’t expect what they get. It’s so good.’’
Robert Knox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.