Kids book inspires musical premiere

Contributed photo Russell Ger will direct the Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 21, as it performs “Rapunzel” and “Peter and the Wolf.”

Contributed photo
Russell Ger will direct the Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 21, as it performs “Rapunzel” and “Peter and the Wolf.”

Russell Ger was in a Greenwich Village bookstore when he noticed an illustrated copy of “Rapunzel.” The fairy tale inspired him to try something new — to tell a musical story, like Prokofiev did with “Peter and the Wolf,” and to add a new dimension. In addition to a narrator, “Rapunzel” has pictures projected on a screen.

Mr. Ger (the name rhymes with “her”) directs the Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra (GNSO), which will be playing “Rapunzel” as part of its Family Concert on Jan. 21. It’s the first time the piece has been performed.

“I didn’t write the music,” Mr. Ger said when he visited the Local this week. Instead, he selected familiar passages that fit the mood of the narrative. Later in the program, the audience will hear “Peter and the Wolf” and will get to see an eight-year-old conductor wield the baton.

The Family Concert is the orchestra’s biggest event of the year and its fifth appearance with Russell Ger as its musical director. Mr. Ger left Australia in August 2008 to study at the Boston Conservatory. In those days, he lived close enough to Fenway Park to hear the fans cheering for the Red Sox.

He moved to New York City in 2011, but didn’t come to Orange County until he auditioned for his current job. The closest he had been was Woodstock, which he considered “touristy.”

Orange County was different. He noticed its character while going out to lunch with John Bliss, the symphony orchestra’s president. Everyone in the restaurant knew one another by name. The newcomer considered it a sign of a “close and welcoming community.” It reminded him of his youthful days in Australia. And he liked it.

He gets the same feeling at the concerts in Aquinas Hall at Mt. St. Mary College. “In Carnegie Hall,” he says, “you have 3,000 people who don’t know each other. Here we sense the audience is rooting for the orchestra, We feel that they’re in our corner. The regulars like to come up and chat after the show.”

Mr. Bliss suggests that the “chatting” is a reaction to the conductor’s practice of explaining each piece to the crowd before it’s played.

In addition to being the premier of “Rapunzel,” this is Mr. Ger’s first Family Concert with the orchestra. The doors open at 3 p.m. The music starts at 4. Students are admitted free.

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Editorial Staff