ESCO kicks off new season Saturday with "Revolutionaries"

New London — Last season's final Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra took place on April 29 — almost six months ago. It might surprise fans to know that plans for the 2017-18 season, which gets underway Saturday night at the Garde Arts Center, have been on the drawing board since last October.

"Yes, it takes about a year of planning and programming to put it all together," laughs Toshi Shimada, the ECSO's music director and conductor. "Which means we're already talking about next season. Everything has to be set and ready for the printer by January. That's how it all works."

This season comprises six concerts along with a children-friendly "Carnival of the Animals" matinee, which means selecting over 20 musical works and organizing them in cohesive and thematic programs, each with guest soloist(s), and that emphatically entice and delight new and old listeners.

"We have to consider a lot of things," Shimada says. "There are so many works to choose from, and we have to find interesting ones or familiar composers and combine them with maybe lesser known works that work well together. We have a budget, obviously, and then we have to find available soloists for those programs."

Shimada says that some seasons might have a more consistent overall motif; others, as in the new season, might feature a few programs that are thematic and others that are more abstract. "It's fun to combine those two approaches," he says.

Another component might be the availability of a specific soloist — and what she or he might want to perform. Saturday's concert, for example, is called "Revolutionaries" and features soloist/pianist Mark Markham, and the program includes Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture, Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, and Ludwig von Beethoven's Symphony No. 3.

"It's often the case where we seek out a specific soloist, and that was the case with Mark," Shimada explains. "We really wanted him, so first we find out if he's available. If he is, then we ask what he would like to perform. He said the Prokofiev piece, which then made me think of the Beethoven's No. 3. Each was revolutionary in its way, and that suggested the theme of the concert."

Prokofiev's concerto was groundbreaking in its structure because both the soloist and the orchestra play important roles in the work. Beethoven's symphony — also known as Eroica and dedicated to Napolean Bonaparte — was also revolutionary in that its structure expanded the parameters of the Classical era and was a signpost pointing the way to the Romantic era. Shimada then selected Wagner's overture to complete the evening; its impact on opera reflected similar theoretical advances in form and presentation.

"One piece led to another and sometimes it all comes together out of nowhere," Shimada says.

If it sounds as though Shimada needs to be exceptionally well organized in addition to creative and musically virtuosic, consider that, in addition to his work with the ECSO, he balances similar obligations as music director for the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes as well as the Yale Symphony Orchestra.

It's probably not much of a stretch, then, to suggest Shimada climbs onstage and conducts symphonies as a way to relax and get away from it all.

"Actually, part of the enjoyment is the whole process," Shimada says. "We're very comfortable here, and working with (ECSO executive director) Caleb (Bailey) is a pleasure."

Indeed, this season marks the third (already!) with Bailey at the helm. Originally from Nebraska, Bailey has enjoyed integrating into southern New England and the local arts scene. "It's been a fantastic journey getting to know this area and our orchestra's supporters," Bailey says, adding that interacting with other local non-profits, the ECSO's board of directors and the community at large has been extremely rewarding.

"I think all of us here have been able to accomplish some great things, such as providing low-cost family concerts again and bringing our subsidiary groups — the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Chorus, Youth Orchestra and Strings Ensemble — into the fold."

As for his growing personal and creative relationship with Shimada, Bailey says, "Toshi is a visionary with the way he plans programs and also a team player. He listens to musicians, patrons, board member and even me when we plan our concerts for each season. He does this all phenomenally and passionately, and our musicians and audience have embracced him throughout his eight years here."

It all kicks off Saturday, and Shimada and Markham will present a pre-concert discussion at 7 p.m.

The 2017-18 ECSO season

All performances are at 8 p.m. on Saturdays at the Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London (except the Nov. 19 "Family of Animals" concert at 1 p.m.) Season subscriptions range from $225 to $340 and single-concert tickets range from $28 to $62, with $12 seats available for anyone under 30 and/or active/retired military personnel. There's also a Pick-4 subscription where patrons can choose any of four concerts for HOW MUCH. The Nov. 19 "Carnival of Animals" matinee performance is specially priced at $10 for adults and $5 for children 18 and under. Call (860) 443-2876 or visit www.ectsymphony.com for details.

Oct. 22 — "Revolutionaries," with soloist Mark Markham; Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture,Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, Ludwig von Beethoven's Symphony No. 3.

Nov. 18 — "American Rhapsody," with soloist Lindsay Garritson; Peggy Stuart Coolidge's Pioneer Dances, Aaron Copland's Our Town, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite.

Nov. 19 — "Carnival of the Animals," with soloists Lindsay Garritson and Gary Chapman, New London Poet Laureate Rhonda Ward and the Eastern Connecticut Ballet; 2 p.m. concert with pre-concert activities at 1 p.m. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, and pre-concert activities in the lobby include a photo booth, musical petting zoo, and more.

Jan. 27 — "Mozart & Lalo Birthday Bash," featuring Miller-Porfiris Duo and ECSO principals Carla Parodi, Kelli O'Connor,Tracy McGinnis, Matthew Muehl-Miller and Sarah Yanovitch; Édouard Lalo's Le Roi d'Y's Overture, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Rue Sanft, Mein Holdes Leben and Sinfonia Concertante, K. 297b, Édouard Lalo's Rapsodie norvégienne (Norwegian Rhapsody), Mozart's aria from Il re pastore (The Shepherd King),L'amero, saro costante and Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 for Violin and Viola. Cake and champagne afterwards.

Feb. 24 — "Paintings & Pictures," with 2017 ECSO Instrumental Competition winner Yi Qun Xu; Hannah Lash's This Ease, Maurice Ravel's Pavane pour une infant défunte, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

March 24 — "From Tragedy to Triumph"; Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 100 (Military) and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

April 28 — "Candide," featuring soloists from the Salt Marsh Opera, Leonard Bernstein's Candide.

If you go

Who: Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra

What: "Revolutionaries," the opening concert in the 2017-18 season

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. pre-concert discussion

Where: Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London

How much: $28-$62 with selected $12 seats available to patrons under 30 and current or retired military personnel

For more information: gardearts.org, (860) 443-2876

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