By Steve Holt
Think “Symphony Orchestra” and West Side, and a certain band that performs regularly at Lincoln Center comes to mind. But there’s another musical center for Upper West Siders. “Centre” to be precise, as in The Centre Symphony Orchestra.
Billing itself as “one of New York City’s longest-standing community orchestras,” this venerable ensemble has been delighting the community for decades. It performs at the Broadway Presbyterian Church, at 114th & Broadway. It’s made up of amateur and professional musicians, many of them Upper West Siders.
Music Director Scott Jackson Wiley has made his mark in the world of community orchestras in the New York area, “where there are a number of really really fine ones.” He’s led the Greenwich Village Orchestra, the South Shore Symphony on Long Island, and took the reins at Centre Symphony last summer.
“I’ve been a musician for many years, all here in New York City. And I want this to be a way to sort of pay back the many colleagues that I’ve worked with over the years. My intention is to promote the music of the students that I’ve had, who are composers, and give my conducting students the chance to conduct in concert. I’ve done that already with some of my students from Mannes College of Music. I’m very proud that they were prepared for the shock of being in front of a podium and in front of an orchestra, handled themselves so well.”
Their next concert is May 19th. The Centre Symphony will be performing Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Fanfare for the Common Man; Elgar’s Nimrod (in honor of José Alejandro Guzmán, their late music director), and Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor.
To perform this masterpiece of the cello repertoire, Wiley has turned to an old family friend. Clara Abel has been living on the Upper West Side ever since moving to New York to study at Juilliard in 2014. (She’s wrapping up a masters degree in baroque cello performance now).
“I feel so at home in the neighborhood. I like the architecture; I like the people; I like all the culture, the music and art and museums.”
She first played the Elgar when she was a teenager.
“Looking back I probably wasn’t ready then to start learning this piece. It was written just after World War One. And it depicts sorrow and wistfulness, as well as outright tragedy and devastation. It really captures human emotions in a palpable way. Of course, I didn’t live during World War One. But I take the experiences that are happening during my lifetime, and I bring them to the music that I’m playing. And I think also as listeners, people come with their own experiences and make connections based on that. These are troubling times right now, and I think we can all connect with the emotions in this music.”
Tickets for the May 19th Concert are $20. More information is at centresymphony.com