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November 7, 2012

Warren Symphony celebrates 40 years

Symphony president talks about the state of the orchestra and its Nov. 11 Anniversary Gala

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

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Myrle Hughes, president of the Warren Symphony Orchestra’s Board of Directors, said the board’s goal is to make the orchestra “the symphony of choice for our patrons, our benefactors, and the musicians.”

WARREN — The Warren Symphony Orchestra is tuning up to celebrate its 40th season this fall with renewed energy and an emerging new sound.

A creatively ambitious, five-concert schedule will begin Nov. 11 with a special 40th Anniversary Gala at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts. The event is set to include a nod to the symphony’s past — former long-time conductor and Music Director David Daniels will lead the opening performance of Johannes Brahms’ “Tragic Overture” — and a taste of the present under third-year Music Director Gregory Cunningham’s leadership.

They symphony was founded in 1972, includes world-class musicians from southeastern Michigan and has weathered its share of financial challenges, thanks to the support of benefactors and patrons in the greater Warren area.

Warren Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors President Myrle Hughes said the 40th Anniversary Gala and the new season would, in many ways, be a celebration of where the orchestra has been, where it is today and where it’s going.

“We want to be the symphony of choice for our patrons, our benefactors and the musicians,” Hughes said. “When they have opportunities — whether it’s the musicians to play for other symphonies, or our benefactors to give money, or our patrons to decide which symphony to go to — the first thought in their mind, we want to be, ‘I want to go to the Warren Symphony Orchestra.’”

Hughes said he actually came to the symphony by “sheer dumb luck” in 2009 after he spent 11 years as the vice chairman of the board for Winning Futures, an award-winning nonprofit dedicated to school-based mentoring programs for children in southeastern Michigan.

Seated alphabetically at a meeting of nonprofit board members next to leaders of the Warren Symphony, he eventually found himself pulled in another direction, despite his initial resistance.

Times were then especially lean for the Warren Symphony, as it struggled to stay afloat under stormy economic skies. The performance schedule was cut from five concerts to just three in 2010.

A generous donation and a challenge grant from long-time supporter Francis Scripter helped immensely, and though it still faces challenges, Hughes said the improved financial situation has allowed the Warren Symphony to again offer more.

He said the five concerts scheduled this year include complex works that necessitate more musicians, which of course comes at a higher cost.

“We try to get the best musicians possible. If you pick big pieces, it gets to be expensive,” Hughes said. “We’ve increased our budget by about 30 percent over last year.”

Hughes said that investment is important, as the Warren Symphony competes against other area orchestras.

What continues to set the Warren Symphony apart, he said, is its leadership – previously under Daniels, who served as the music director for the symphony since its inception in 1972, and for last three years under Cunningham.

“David Daniels is the reason I’m here. He was involved in all aspects of the orchestra over the course of those 40 years,” Hughes said. “Greg devotes himself to the musical side of it, and I think he has a different way of dealing with the musicians.

“He works very hard on the communication with them. He really brings a profound level of musicianship and is in the process of creating a ‘Warren Symphony Sound.’”

Hughes described that sound as “bigger and silkier,” with “silky strings.”

The Warren Symphony also continues to plant seeds for the appreciation of classical music in the future. Its “Classical Palooza” program exposes thousands of children to the symphony each year.

“I remember hearing them for the first time, and how big that sound is. It really just captured my interest,” said Hughes, who plays the piano. “What we want to do is try to re-create that. Kids don’t get classical music in the schools anymore because the funding is just not there. We want that to be a very positive impression.”

The Warren Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its 40th Anniversary Gala at 3 p.m., Nov. 11, at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, 44575 Garfield Road, in Clinton Township. The program will include Johannes Brahms’ “Tragic Overture,” guest conducted by Daniels; the world premier of “On Greenstone Island,” by Terry Herald; and Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” featuring the Detroit Concert Choir, the Cantata Academy Chorale and the Macomb Children’s Chorus.

Tickets for individual performances, including the Anniversary Gala, are $23 for adults, $20 for seniors, $10 for college students and free for students in grade school or younger.

Season tickets for the Warren Symphony are $95 for adults, $80 for seniors and $45 for college students.

Other concerts scheduled for the 2012-2013 season include “SCROOGE!” on Dec. 9; “Ta-ta-ta TUM!” featuring Beethoven’s famous “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor,” on March 17; “Copeland Inspirations!” on April 7; and the “WSO Sponsors United Voices of Detroit” concert on May 5.  

To purchase tickets and for more information about the Warren Symphony Orchestra and its 40th Anniversary season, call (586) 754-2950 or visit www.warrensymphony.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.