Archive for October, 2009

Hudson River Folk Symphony

The Hudson River Iona Island and Bear Mountain Bridge Photo Eric Ortner

The Hudson River Iona Island and Bear Mountain Bridge Photo Eric Ortner

I am performing in the debut of an original symphonic work composed by Kevin F. Becker tonight October 23rd and tomorrow October 24th. The symphony is entitled The Hudson River Folk Symphony and was written in honor of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial and the 30th Anniversary of the Hudson Valley Folk Guild.

Kevin did a great job writing an interesting composition, which follows the musical history of the Hudson River. He starts out the first movement with woodwinds and drums playing a sort of tribal introduction representing the early Native Americans and their environment. He then abruptly launches the string section into a Baroque style fugue inspired by the likes of J.S. Bach. This fugue represents the arrival of Europeans into the Hudson Valley.

The second movement examines the music of the 17th and 19th Centuries. The melodies are based on the themes of the Folk songs Yankee Doodle and Hudson River Steam Boat. Kevin has actually informed me that Yankee Doodle was originally written in the Hudson River Valley making it very appropriate for the composition. The chorus enters the mix of the symphony in this movement while singing versus of Yankee Doodle and Hudson River Steam Boat.

The third movement is written as a modern Rondo representing the Hudson River’s industrial era of the 20th century. It has sort of a patriotic bent and honors the importance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Hudson Valley region. It is important to note that Kevin is from Hyde Park, NY and it seems that as a result FDR holds a special place in his heart. The third movement also represents great depression utilizing the theme of the song Buddy Can You Spare a Dime. The chorus also holds a key part in the third movement as it sings the melody of My Country Tis of Thee/God Save The Queen with lyrics inspired by FDR.

All and all it’s been a fun experience learning this composition and helping to turn it into a good sounding piece. As you may have realized from reviewing the other content in this blog, I thoroughly enjoy studying music history, so the fact that the symphony has a historical bent interests me greatly. It has also been nice working with a larger ensemble again, as there are 24 performers playing their hearts out in it.

For those that wish to attend the performance will be held in the Cunneen Hackett Cultural Center Theatre in Poughkeepsie, NY and begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 at the door. For more information, visit While you’re in Poughkeepsie, be sure and stroll across the new pedestrian bridge connecting across the River to Highland, the views are worth it.

Once You Get On Stage Anything Can Happen

Violin, Piano Saxophone and flowers

Violin, Piano Saxophone and Flowers — Montage by Eric Ortner

Experienced Musicians learn quickly that you really never know what to expect when you step into the spotlight. You simply must be able to role with the punches and be confident enough to play no matter what happens around you. We had a case in point while performing for Jessica and Jeffery’s cocktail hour on October 17th at Villa Barone in Mahopac in Westchester County, NY.

The caterers had just finished setting the tables and were opening the doors for guests when a tall man with a saxophone walked up to us and said, “Um, are you guys playing here, because I was told that I was supposed to be here at 7 to play the cocktail hour with a keyboardist.”

Self-doubt set in for a fleeting instant, but we had already spoken with Barbara, the bride’s mother and we knew we were in the correct hall. I had a signed contract that stated we were to play the cocktail hour and we’d even been paid in full prior to the performance. He introduced himself as Mark and that he lived in Ossining, NY. He went on to explain that he was brought in by the DJ. We told him he was probably in the wrong room, because Villa Barone is a large establishment. Mark commented that he was sure he was in the correct location and described Barbara in order to verify it. He ran out to find his boss the DJ who was setting up for the reception in another room to figure out what he should do.

By this point the Bride and Groom’s guests were beginning to file in so we opened our set. We usually start out our performances with a few short easier pieces to warm up before moving into the more taxing compositions. As we began the third song Mark came back in with a plate of food and watched us work. As we finished up the tune Blessed Spirits, Mark put his food down and walked over to us with his Saxophone informing that, “I don’t know where he is, he must be running around somewhere. I’m being paid to play here, so do you mind if I sit in.”

I assessed the situation and noticed that the hall was quite full now. I could see Barbara was across the room, but I decided it was best not to stir up any drama with her or Mark.  I thought to myself, well I suppose Dave Mathews Band arranges with Sax and Violin, if this guy is any good it probably won’t sound awful. So I said, “Sure. Can you read music?”

Mark looked down at the music, which was Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons at this point in our set and asked, “I suppose this stuff is all written in C, huh?” I momentarily forgot that Saxophones are tuned to B flat and said, “Oh you want something in C, O.K. We should probably start playing something easier anyway to make sure this is going to work out first.”

I flipped through the pages of my binder looking for something less complicated in C and found an early American composition by the name of Elegance and Simplicity. I put the bow to violin and began to count it off.  To my amazement Mark blew through that tune sight reading, and didn’t miss a single note. I commented, “Wow, way to go! I guess we can try something harder.”

Mark replied, “Yea, it’s not really the site reading that’s hard for me. It’s just a little tough because I have to transpose everything from B Flat.”

We went back to Spring and performed it. We really lucked out in this situation because Mark was a phenomenal saxophonist. He proceeded to play through Spring and Autumn of the Four Seasons, with about 95% accuracy sight reading the music while transposing every note.

The next song in the set following The Four Seasons was a composition entitled Allegro from Pièces de Clavecin Op. 1 by Joseph-Hector Fiocco. I looked down at the page and saw that it was blackened with 16th notes and remembered that this tune just flies by as you run through it. Moreover one stumble on any section and it was next to impossible to get back on track. So I looked over at him and said, “You better sit this one out.” He agreed and said, “I’m going to go find the DJ.”

We were on the last page of the Fiocco when Mark walked back in. He listened patiently and applauded as we finished up the tune. He then grabbed his sax and stand and said, “Well I spoke with DJ and he told me he just wanted me to play a few songs with you guys, so I guess I’ll see you later.“

I don’t think the guests really had any clue what had just transpired before them. It’s not every day that you hear classical tunes performed in an arrangement of Sax, Violin and Piano and especially not one that had never been rehearsed. As far as I’m concerned, they just received a once in a lifetime amazing and impromptu performance by three accomplished musicians who know that you’re never really sure what to expect in show business.

The Onteora Mountain House is an Amazing Venue

Esopus Valley From Onteora Mountain House Photo Eric Ortner

Esopus Valley From Onteora Mountain House at sunset. This scenery often becomes the backdrop for wedding ceremonies. Photo Eric Ortner

We performed a wedding ceremony and cocktail hour at Onteora Mountain House in Boiceville, NY on October 1st. This is the second time I’ve been to a wedding there and I have to say that I would rate it one of the most beautiful wedding venues in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.

It is designed extremely well and is easily adjustable for varying weather conditions. In fair weather guests are seated under towering white pines as they view the ceremony conducted on a large deck overlooking the Esopus Valley.  The weather was questionable on October 1st. It was lightly sprinkling with heavy skies and a little chilly so the friendly event staff held out until the very last minute before the ceremony to decide where to place their fashionable moveable chairs. Watching the weather closely they decided it wasn’t going to pour and placed their chairs on the overlook. However, they could have just as easily placed the chairs inside the giant pavilion with another amazing deck overlooking the Catskills.

The first wedding I performed at in this location took place in early July so the cocktail hour was held on the Onteora’s stone paved patio in front of the guest house. In cooler weather, such as the wedding I worked in October the guesthouse is opened for the cocktail hour.  The performance space inside is much tighter than on the patio. There is really only enough room for a small ensemble to perform next to the fireplace inside the house. We managed to squeeze a stage piano and violinist, but it would be next to impossible to fit a drum set inside; and a set would most certainly be too loud for the venue anyway. However, the exquisite decoration inside this venue more than makes up for its somewhat tight quarters. Enormous vases and Buda statues line the walls, while the Catskill Mountains are, once again, framed by a large enclosed wrap around porch.

Although, we did not have the opportunity to perform on it at either of the weddings I attended, the large pavilion space has a well constructed stage large enough to hold most dance bands and a beautiful hardwood dance floor to match. All in all performing at weddings in the Onteora Mountain House really makes one want to get married there. Please feel free to reminisce about your wedding day at the Onteora or simply a wedding you attended below.