Vincent Oneppo: Music for All Seasons

If you know the season, you know what Vincent Oneppo is up to. If it is summer, it is the season for the Chestnut Hill Concerts at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook. If it is winter, it is time for the Essex Winter Series (EWS). Vincent is administrator of EWS and managing director of the Chestnut Hill concerts.

His titles differ, but the work he does for the two organizations is similar. It can involve everything from overseeing publicity to making sure that there are enough music stands for performers. He has his favorites when it comes to concert set-up. Making sure everything is correct for an entire orchestra is a big task, but a string quartet is something different.

"Sometimes all you need is four chairs; they even bring their own music stands," Vincent says.

Though the two musical organizations focus on different types of music, Vincent notes they have much in common.

"The two series are really complementary; they have the same audiences and they serve the same geographical area. Doing them together leads to economies of scale in things like marketing and press work," he says.

EWS holds its concerts at Valley Regional High School; Chestnut Hill at the Kate.

There are, to be sure, significant differences, beyond the seasons in which they operate.

"The series have different profile," Vincent says.

Chestnut Hill concentrates on chamber music; EWS presents a more varied program. This year EWS began with a dual piano concert on Jan. 12 by EWS Artistic Director Mihae Lee and Randall Hodgkinson. The five-concert series will also include a solo guitar recital, an appearance by the New Haven Symphony with French hornist Leelanee Sterrett, a jazz program devoted to Fats Waller, and an all-Bach performance on Palm Sunday.

Involvement in music and concerts is nothing new for Vincent. He retired in 2010 as director of the Concert and Media Office at the Yale School of Music. On his retirement, the music school's Camber Music Series was named the Oneppo Chamber Music Series in his honor.

But he resists the term "retired."

"I am still in arts management, managing two concert series," he says.

Leaving Yale, nonetheless, has given him more time for the one thing that never changes in a musician's life: practicing.

"When I was at Yale, I was lucky to get in an hour a week," he says.

A clarinet and saxophone player, Vincent now performs with the Elm City Winds and the Bales-Gitlin Band, which played for a number of seasons at the Copper Beech Inn on New Year's Eve. He has also performed with Bales-Gitlin at the La Grua concert center in Stonington, where he is looking forward to a solo concert accompanied on the piano by Lee.

Although most of his 30-year career at Yale was involved with the music school, Vincent spent some seven years working at Yale Printing and Publishing Services. He was interested in learning more about computerized publishing to produce elegant and economical concert programs. He also did a column for an internal Yale newsletter highlighting different Yale staff members and their jobs.

"I did people from every corner of Yale, from a lab technician to high management," he recalls.

Vincent came to Yale not as an employee, but as a student. He began to work in the Yale concert office while earning his master's degree at the School of Music. His undergraduate degree, also in music, is from New York University. He got not only a master's degree and a job at Yale; he also met his wife, Martha Bennett Oneppo, a soprano with a long career as a soloist and teacher in this area, through Otto-Werner Mueller, then the director of the Yale Philharmonia orchestra. The couple has two grown sons.

Vincent had no plan to stay for a career at Yale, but, as he reflects, he says working in the concert office was a fortuitous opportunity.

"I grabbed at the job even when I was a student; I was not confident as a player," he says.

He found he enjoyed the process of producing a concert. He recalls the first concert he produced at Woolsey Hall in New Haven, which included a Camille Saint-Saëns organ symphony.

"It was great to promote that concert; people came from all over to hear it. It was a source of pleasure and it elevates the whole community," he says.

Managing a concert could always produce its unexpected moments. Vincent recalls when the late German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf arrived at Sprague Hall, the music school's auditorium, for a concert. She complimented the acoustics and then asked to see the spotlights that would be focused on her. Vincent explained that Sprague Hall had no spotlights.

That didn't satisfy the diva.

"You have four hours to get them," she told him.

"I made panicked calls to the Yale drama school, and just as she was walking in to begin, we were plugging them in," he recalls.

Though the observation that audiences are aging and disappearing is a common refrain when discussing classical music, Vincent points out an incongruity in the statement.

"That has been said for long enough that if audiences were not being replaced there would have been no audience by now," he says.

He does note that as technology makes it far easier for listeners to access a specific market, young people are not being introduced to classical music. He recalls a favorite program of a television era gone by, the Ed Sullivan Show, on which many different kinds of performers were included; a ventriloquist like Señor Wences could be followed by an opera star like Maria Callas.

"The whole family would watch and over time, kids would learn to enjoy, or at least be exposed to, classical music," he says. "That variety is gone; now audiences are segmented and split up. A 19 year-old can listen to music customized for 19 year-olds and never hear or see mature entertainment."

For more information on dates and tickets for EWS concerts, visit www.essexwinterseries.com.

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