VITA Symphony Orchestra to play Dvorak, more
Pete Nowlen, whose VITA Symphony Orchestra will perform Saturday at CSUS, has two audiences to serve. First there is the classical-music audience that comes to hear and enjoy this group of emerging professional musicians. Then there is the group of artists themselves. VITA stands for Vocal and Instrumental Teaching Artists — and Nowlen helps to guide the musicians into a successful, satisfying career.
Saturday’s program "all flows from (Antonin Dvorak’s) New World Symphony," Nowlen said. "One of the reasons that I wanted it to flow from that piece was Dvorak’s intent when he composed it. It really pointed the way for American music to come." Other pieces on the program, all from the 20th century, "reflect folk music from various countries but filtered through the American experience," Nowlen said. Harry T. Burleigh, who as Dvorak’s assistant introduced the composer to African American music, will be represented on the program by his "Southland Sketches," a set of violin and piano pieces. Also on the program will be Aaron Copland’s "Fanfare for the Common Man," James De Mars’ "Far From the Water" for American Indian flute and orchestra. and Chen Yi’s "We Are America" from Angel Island Impressions, composed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Angel Island Immigration Station.
The program was assembled to illustrate the thesis that "The world of music comes together here. in America" To make the lesson even more palatable, the concert will include special events, a drawing and ice cream at intermission.
But Nowlen’s intent on more than entertaining an audience, He is, after all, an educator, and Saturday’s performance will cap VITA’s academic term. CSUS musician Charles Spruill IV will perform the violin solo in "Southland Sketches" and Deborah Pittman will be featured on the cedar flute in "Far From the Water. Ryan Murphy will conduct Dvorak’s New World Symphony. "I wanted to give Ryan an opportunity to conduct a full-scale symphony as sort of a capstone experience for him," Nowlen said. "He really is what the organization is about. He started with us as a sophomore but a really talented sophomore. As a junior, he conducted a full-length Mass and an oratorio. He works with opera programs in San Francisco. He understands the principles, and knows how to talk to people. He’s a musician and has led a choral performance, but he hasn’t conducted a major work without vocalists."
VITA Academy is two years old, but it grew out of an existing organization, the Academy of All Hallows, which was inspired by Nowlen’s experience in the classical music world.
"When i went to school, my goal was to get a job with a fulltime orchestra, which I did," Nowlen said in a recent telephone interview. "Then I got a bit bored with it and then that orchestra went away. I lost my job but not my passion for the music."
.Changing his own ideas about how to make money making music, Nowlen redirected his attention to "changing how young people view what a career in music can be. The general idea is that one is not going to spend one’s time associating with one organization that will take care of you for all your career."
First with All Hallows and now with VITA, Nowlen.is teaching artists about expaning their opportunities. "Most every performer teaches, whether instrumental or vocal, via individual tutoring," he said, "but there are other educational opportunities," including going into the classroom as a cultural resource person.
VITA takes a three-prong approach, Nowlen said. It trains and gives practice to young musicians; it provides community engagement opportunities, primarily in elementary schools; and it provides performance opportunities. At All Hallows, the emphasis was mostly on performance, he said. At VITA, the emphasis is on the complete experience. VITA academics don’t just play the program, they plan it, from script writing, program structuring, scheduling — and finally performance.
"Voices of the New World," featuring the VITA Symphony Orchestra with the Women of the Slavic Chorale and guest soloists and conductors, takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Music Recital hall at Sacramento State University. Tickets are $20 general, $10 for students with ID and $8 for ages 6 to 16. For more information, call (916) 486-8538. or go to www.vitaacademy.org.
Editor’s note: The phone number in this article was edited after publication.