ROCHESTER — Scott Kesel hadn’t played the tuba for some 15 years, since his days in Canandaigua Academy in the 1970s. The instrument he played back then was the school’s, not his — and after he graduated, he put the brass behind him, until he was asked to take part in an alumni band.
“I basically had to relearn the instrument,” Kesel recalled. “It was so much fun; I was able to connect with it and got a horn of my own.”
Over the ensuing years have come many opportunities for Kesel — owner of Canandaigua Chrysler Dodge Jeep — to perform: a Dixieland group for tuba, clarinet and banjo he helped form called Razzmatazz; participation in Rochester’s annual Tuba Christmas concert; membership in such groups as the Canal Street Strutters, the Greater Finger Lakes Jazz Orchestra and a new group called Finger Lakes Brass.
And now comes a whole new level: Kesel, with other amateur musicians throughout the region, will take the Eastman Theatre stage Wednesday, Jan. 22, to perform with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for the “Side-by-Side” concert at 8 p.m., featuring music by Liszt, Dvorak and Bizet, among others. The RPO accepted enough musicians so each could get one-on-one mentorship time with an orchestra member; Kesel has been rehearsing with and taking pointers from the RPO’s principal tubist, Craig Sutherland.
“It’s one of those things, if you’re an amateur musician; you always think about what it would be like to play in a high-level performing organization like that,” Kesel said. “It’s not an opportunity you ever expect to get.”
It’s an opportunity that’s grown out of earlier RPO collaborative efforts and community outreaches. For years, the orchestra has done a similar “side-by-side” concert with the teens of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; and last spring it invited community singers to be part of a choral concert. According to Richard Decker, the orchestra’s vice president of artistic administration, the city received around 300 applications for about 200 slots on stage.
RPO officials decided to take that concept and apply it to an orchestral concert.
“The community instrumentalist is sitting side by side with an RPO musician,” Decker said. “They’re hand in glove throughout the rehearsals and the performance process.”
The orchestra issued a request for applications, in which musicians were asked to explain their reasons for applying, assess their skill levels and list their involvement with community orchestras, ensembles and the like, so musicians could be placed in the group that best fits their experience level. An advanced-level group of musicians will perform a piece by Liszt (“Les Préludes,” Symphonic Poem No. 3) with the RPO Wednesday, and a more intermediate-level group will perform with the RPO on Bizet’s Suite No. 2 from “L’Arlésienne” and Dvorák’s “Slavonic Dances.” (The RPO itself will start the concert by performing pieces by Wagner, Khachaturian and Dvorák.) Conducting each body — the RPO and the combined RPO-community orchestras — will be Paul Shewan.
Page 2 of 2 - Of 190 applicants, the RPO was able to accept 115 community musicians to partner with the orchestra in one of the two groupings.
“We really wanted it to be a true Side-by-Side — we didn’t want anyone to be shortchanged for having, say, one RPO member with four community members,” Decker said. “This is really intended to be an opportunity for each of the community musicians to meet and get to know one of the RPO musicians.”
It’s the first and, likely, far from the last such concert. Decker said it will probably be repeated, and may lead to several other types of community-orchestra partnerships — a side-by-side chamber group playing advanced material, for example, or maybe even a fantasy camp of sorts for amateur musicians someday.
“We would like to see where the Side-by-Side concept could go in the future,” he said.
Kesel had initially played trumpet in high school before the band director asked him to switch to tuba. “I remember him handing out this ancient music teachers’ guide — it said to select the largest and strongest player you have so they’ll be able to carry the instrument,” he quipped. “I guess those were the qualifications I had: I could carry it!”
Despite his experience over the past several years with his various community groups — along with occasional substitute work with others like Finger Lakes Symphony Orchestra or Penfield Pops — Kesel was surprised to have been selected. During the Tuba Christmas concert, he looked around at more than 100 other area tuba players and figured he didn’t have much of a chance.
Preparing for Wednesday’s concert has been an intense experience for the community musicians, adjusting to a quick prep-time akin to the RPO musicians’ — the group has only been rehearsing since December.
“It’s interesting how motivating it has been to me to practice,” Kesel said. “For the past few weeks it’s not been unusual for me to sit down with the study book I used in high school.”
The goal: “I’m sitting down on that stage in the best shape that I can be.”
If you go
WHAT Side-by-Side RPO/Community Orchestra concert, sponsored by the City of Rochester
WHEN 8 p.m. tonight, Jan. 22
WHERE Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, Gibbs Street, Rochester
ADMISSION Free, but tickets are required. Tickets are available in person at Eastman Theatre box office, 433 E. Main St., Rochester, or may be reserved for pickup at (585) 454-2100. A $5 donation per ticket is recommended.