When Tammy Vollom-Matturro leads the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra through their Summer Gala Concert this weekend, she’ll be standing in front of the largest string section the group has had in her 10 years as its conductor: nine first violins, eight second violins, eight violas, six string basses and eight cellos.
“That is a huge string section for our community — a legitimate symphonic string section,” Vollom-Matturro said.
This weekend those strings will be putting heft and finesse into the summer concert’s centerpiece performance of the 8h symphony by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak. Though not quite as well known as Dvorak’s next symphony — the famous “New World” symphony — Vollom-Matturro said Dvorak’s 8th is a personal favorite, which she got to know as a player. She’s performed it both as a percussionist and clarinetist — but hasn’t conducted it before, though she said “it’s one that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a few years, and this year was definitely the year to do it.”
“With Dvorak, you need a huge cello section,” Vollom-Matturro said. “He loved cello and wrote a lot of music for cello. So we’re very fortunate to have a really good cello section.”
The symphony will take up the entire post-intermission half of the concert. The first half will show off particular sections of the orchestra, opening with the brass fanfare of the energetic, wind-driven “Festive Overture” by Dmitri Shostakovich.
“We have great woodwinds who will just blow away that super-fast melody in the Shostakovich,” Vollom-Matturro said. “That’s why I chose that piece — it features our strong brass and strong winds.”
Next is Antonio Vivaldi’s “Sinfonia for Strings in G,” which, true to its name, will be played by string section. It also includes a harpsichord part playing a continuo — a Baroque music feature combining chords and a bassline. In the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s version, the continuo will be the harpsichord voice of an electronic keyboard. Alaska has only one actual harpsichord, Vollom-Matturo said — located in Anchorage and played in festivals there.
“They didn’t want to allow it to be transported,” Vollom-Matturro said. “We are improvising and using an electronic harpsichord sound.”
“Hungarian Dance” by French composer Hector Berlioz will bring the full group back together and end “with a great big full chord that’s just a great way to go into intermission,” Vollom-Matturro said.
The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra has been holding practices in Ninilchik because it’s halfway between the Kenai-Soldotna area and Homer. It’s a convenient location for most of its far-flung musicians, though some come from as far as Seward or Anchorage, Vollom-Matturro said. The effort the players put in just to arrive at practice is one reason she chooses pieces with outstanding parts for specific orchestra sections.
“Every single musician is putting in so much time on the road that when I program concerts, I want to make sure I’m not leaving anybody out because of all the travel time,” Vollom-Matturro said. “Programming, for our situation, is tricky sometimes, because I want to make everybody’s trip to rehearsals and concerts to be worth their time by playing some music… People like to play with us because we do such big pieces. It gives them opportunity to do music they may not ever have the opportunity to do.”
The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra will be performing its Summer Gala Concert in Homer’s Mariner Theatre on Friday at 7:30 p.m, and at Kenai Central High School’s Renee C. Henderson Auditorium on Saturday, also at 7:30 p.m. Vollom-Matturro will open the shows with a talk about the pieces starting at 6:45 p.m. The $20 tickets are available at the Homer Book Store, Soldotna’s River City Books and at the door. People 18 and younger get in free.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.