It’s all about favorites and fantasy this Sunday afternoon when InConcert Sierra kicks off its 67th season with “Once Upon an Orchestra – a Fairy Tale of a Program,” a concert that puts 100 percent of the focus on the Sierra Master Chorale Orchestra.
The Sierra Master Chorale performs with an orchestra at all their concerts, but after a number of requests, a performance featuring solely the instrumental ensemble was created, much to the delight of artistic director and conductor Ken Hardin.
“It’s the first strictly orchestral program I’ve done in a while,” Hardin said. “And the program itself are all favorites of mine. You could probably call it the greatest hits of orchestral literature.”
When creating the program, Hardin reached out to all of InConcert’s board members, donors and supporters, asking them to request their one piece of favorite music. He received more than 100 responses and narrowed it down by instrumentation, variety and theme. Beethoven’s overtures (of which there are several) were among the top requested.
Hardin selected the Egmont Overture, which is recognizable from many films. Hardin tempts non-classical listeners who love movies to give the popular pieces a chance, as they are often featured in mainstream films.
“You may not know the names, but you’ll recognize the music. People say they don’t like classical music, and I ask them ‘do you like movies?’”
Classical music, he emphasizes, is very evocative, both for filmmakers and composers. Many composers tell stories of their homelands or memorable locations, as do Sunday’s selections, subsequently creating a travel log. Sibelius’ Finlandia became a symbol for Finnish independence and nationalism. Mendelssohn’s Die Hebriden/Fingal’s Cave was inspired by an island off the coast of Scotland. Grieg’s works (Anitra’s Dance) are very fairytale-like.
“There’s a lot of storytelling in music,” he said. “Stories from all over the world.”
Smetana’s Moldau memorializes the Czech composer’s native land, specifically the Moldau River. The music flows out like water, beginning with light trickles, evolving to rapids before celebrating the grand castles on the banks.
Moldau is one of Hardin’s favorites from Sunday’s lineup, but he reveals his favorite classical piece is probably Gloria, by Francis Poulenc. His all-time favorite song is Betcha B Golly, Wow by the Stylistics. His vast background and experience encompasses numerous genres. He’s an accomplished pianist who loves to perform, be it chamber music, Broadway, or jazz. He initially came to Nevada County from Los Angeles to raise a family nearly 30 years ago and was pleasantly surprised to find so much musical opportunity. Prepared to teach to get by, he found he was able to make a living performing, which is what he loves.
In the past three decades he has become one of the most diverse and dedicated musicians in the area – teaching, conducting, and performing for nearly every artistic organization in Nevada County. He was with Music in the Mountains for 20 years, taught at Sierra College for 20 years, performed in churches, and worked with theatre groups, including Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra and Movement Alliance.
“I think I’ve worked with every musician in Nevada County, and I really enjoy that, getting to know people musically. Everyone brings something different to the table,” Hardin said.
Hardin came to InConcert in 1994, starting first as a conductor then moving into consulting, programming and booking before taking the helm as artistic director. While the organization has grown steadily over the years, recent years have shown a consistent 20-percent growth, which he considers amazing for classical music in a recession.
“I guess they like what we do. It’s very gratifying,” he added.
The recent exponential growth started to keep Hardin busier than he preferred, limiting his local outreach and triggering a bit of burnout. The board of directors then lightened his load by bringing on Cathy Collings as orchestra manager and Toon Vandevorst as assistant artistic director. Vandevorst was born and raised in the Netherlands and is equally prolific in the community – studying Indian classical music with local legendary composer Terry Riley and working with the Bear River High School choir program and Forest Charter School.
With all the extra help, Hardin has no immediate plans to retire. He continues to pass on some of the responsibilities to Vandevorst and feels a bit freer to take mini-vacations with his wife Julie. Though the chorus is off during the summer and runs in two 15-week cycles (beginning this month), he remains busy throughout the year, preparing and selecting music, organizing donor events and handling all the typical busy behind-the-scenes work that people don’t normally see.
While music is Hardin’s life, he does find satisfaction off the stage as well, specifically enjoying, and excelling in, construction. He built his home and recently began doing more rock and concrete work.
“People ask me why I like it, and that’s because when I work with music, when the music is done, it’s done. But when building something with tangible materials, you have something to look at and admire when you’re finished. In music, once it’s performed and out there, we don’t get to change it,” Hardin said.
Sunday’s concert begins at 2 p.m. at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 12889 Osborne Hill Road in Grass Valley. Tickets are $55 for general admission and $50 for InConcert Sierra season ticket holders. They are available at BriarPatch Co-op, by phone at 530-273-3990 or online at http://InConcertSierra.org.
Freelance writer Katrina Paz lives in Grass Valley.