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The Suburbanite
  • On the Beat: Canton Symphony to re-create its debut concert from 1938

  • On Feb. 16 — 75 years to the day after the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s successful debut — the symphony will re-create the original musical program at 8 p.m. at Umstattd Hall, with Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann on the podium.

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  • Repository writer Walter Tremain was plenty impressed by the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s sold-out concert debut on Feb. 16, 1938, at the city auditorium downtown.
    “Throbbing beats of thundering kettle drums, dominating their way through the sustained climax of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Marche Slave,’ were echoed in the (crowd) response of 3,300 persons,” Tremain wrote in a front-page story the next day.
     The orchestra’s 77 charter members were a mix of amateurs and professionals, all volunteers, conducted by Richard W. Oppenheim, the former director of music at Mount Union College.
     At intermission, the vice-chairman of the Canton Symphony Association told the capacity crowd, “We have sown musical seeds in Canton. Now it is up to us to keep the soil fertile and cultivated.”
     On Feb. 16 — 75 years to the day after the orchestra’s successful debut — the Canton Symphony will re-create the original musical program at 8 p.m. at Umstattd Hall, with Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann on the podium.
     The orchestra will perform Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture,” Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 in G Major, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” The orchestra will not be performing Tchaikovsky’s aforementioned “Marche Slave” because, as Zimmermann said, “it would make for a very, very long concert.”
     The 1938 concert was a notably challenging program for a new civic orchestra.
    “There’s not really a theme to it, other than in those days, as well as today, all the works would be known and recognizable and liked by classical listeners,” Zimmermann said.
     The conductor offered a candid preview of the Feb. 16 concert.
     “’Scheherazade is not an easy piece to bring off technically or musically,” Zimmermann said. “I’ve done it three or four times. It’s a fun piece for the conductor and the musicians, and it’s a real tour de force for the concertmaster because of all the cadenzas.”
     The Haydn is unofficially known as the “Surprise Symphony” because of a loud chord in the second movement. It was placed there because “Haydn was tired of patrons dozing off during the slow movements,” Zimmermann said with amusement.
    “I have this fantasy of gathering a bunch of china cups and dishes and fine silver and having the percussionist dump it on the floor at that moment. You’d get this cacophony of sound.”
     Zimmermann laughed when I suggested that he set off an air horn from the podium at that precise moment.
     As for the Beethoven overture, he said, “I just absolutely love the spirit and the intent of Beethoven as a man and as a composer. The ‘Egmont’ is a wonderful overture and it has all the rhythmic excitement and intensity you would expect from Beethoven.”
    Told that the Canton Symphony’s 1938 debut concert earned standing ovations, curtain calls and an encore, Zimmermann said, “Our audiences are very gracious and very kind. When they start throwing roses onstage, then I’ll ask for a raise.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Tickets for the Canton Symphony 75th Anniversary Concert may be ordered at www.cantonsymphony.org and 3330-452-2094.