STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
The Abington Symphony Orchestra and Oratorio Choir celebrate the 300th anniversary of Abington Presbyterian Church with a special Music at Abington series concert on Nov. 7.
The ensembles are comprised of volunteer church and community members. The orchestra is more than 40 years old, said John Sall, Director of Music Ministries at the church, and began so members and friends could play together. At that time, the church also began a concert series, which now includes performances by professional musicians, chamber pieces, and solo recitals.
The Nov. 7 performance features professional violinist Timothy Schwarz and includes traditional as well as contemporary music. Schwarz will perform Dvorák’s Violin Concerto, a challenging yet beautiful work, Sall said.
The concert also features the commissioned piece “A Festive Song of Praise,” written by local composer Tim Shaw. He wrote the piece for strings, organ (the church’s was recently renovated), and chorus, as well as a solo duet (soprano and baritone), Sall said. The concert will be its premiere.
“Tim writes with a special sensitivity for choirs and has a lot of background directing them,” Sall said. “He understands how to write beautifully so that the choir can sound their best.”
For Schwarz, the concert is a return to his roots. He played with the orchestra when he was five, so small that his feet didn’t touch the floor while he sat in his chair. He gave his first solo concert at the church, too. Every other year or so, he comes back to perform a concerto or other work.
“I’ve had unbelievable support from the congregation,” Schwarz said.
Schwarz has been playing violin since he was four and comes from a long line of performers, including his grandfather, aunt, uncle, and older sister. They all performed professionally. His mom played, too, as an amateur. His brother was the rebel, he joked, playing trombone and becoming a lawyer, “the black sheep of the family.”
Schwarz won his first competition at age 5 and studied at prestigious schools and with teachers well-known in the field. He teaches now, too, and directs the orchestra at Kutztown University. He performs about 40 concerts annually as well.
Having not performed this particular concerto since college, he spent a lot of the Summer making sure he really had it down, he said. He practices two to three hours every day, not including rehearsal with anyone else.
“It’s a challenge for any musician, no matter how successful they are, to have that time to focus on practice,” he said. “It’s critical.”
One of the things he likes best about performing is the uncertainty and the newness of each performance – you never know what’s going to happen.
“I’ve learned that I have to be open for magic to happen. If I know my music, the rest is something that is beyond me. It’s still a bit of a mystery — what makes a great performance,” he said. “Sometimes, it really clicks and sometimes it doesn’t. Performance is exciting. You don’t have a guarantee that it will click.”
He’s hoping the Dvorák piece will click. The concerto has folk elements to it and a wildness that is appealing, but difficult to play, he said.
“The first movement sounds almost like it’s being improvised, and it’s emotionally charged,” he said. “That’s followed by the most gorgeous second movement. The third movement is jovial and energetic and difficult to play, but really keeps you in your seat.”
He likened it to a certain kind of friend: “someone that’s great to be around, but also a bit exhausting. It’s a little bit like that.”
He loves it, though. And he’s thrilled to be performing as part of this concert.
“The warm greeting at Abington always makes me play so much better,” he said. “Always, when I go back, it feels like I’m going home.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Abington Symphony Orchestra and Oratorio Choir
When: Pre-concert conversation with the composer and others at 7; concert at 8 p.m. Nov, 7.
Where: Abington Presbyterian Church, 1082 Old York Road, Abington.
Info.: Call (215) 887-4530 or visit www.apcusa.org.