CMSA Article

The First Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra Festival

By Joan Bondira

This article appeared in the Classical Mandolin Society of America's (CMSA) newsletter.
The aurthor, Joan Bondira, is a member of Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra. 

It was a night of firsts: the first time that Pittsburgh hosted a mandolin orchestra festival, the first time that a Pittsburgh audience heard so many mandolins play at once, and, reminiscent of the city’s “melting pot” history, it was the first time in Pittsburgh that mandolin players from more than seven countries brought their talents to one stage. The 1st Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra Festival took place on Saturday March 19, 2011, at the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

Hosted by the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra, the festival featured the Orchestra dell'Accademia Internazionale di Mandolino and the Dayton Mandolin Orchestra. The event began for the musicians the night before when they came together for a reception and an intensive rehearsal of the En Masse Orchestra, made up of all three groups.

The Pittsburgh Orchestra, conducted by Charley Rappaport, opened the concert on Saturday night with a rousing German march followed by a suite of tunes from the British Isles, including Mr. Rappaport’s composition Welsh Rhapsodie. After Gary Burdick and Emily Mohr joined the orchestra to contribute their vocal talents on Danny Boy, Mr. Burdick remained to charm the audience with O Sole Mio. Pittsburgh concluded its portion of the program with the klezmer favorite, Hava Nagila.

Conducted by James Johnston, the Dayton Orchestra next took the stage with Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Mandolins and Orchestra. Dottie Palsgrove and James Kellaris were the soloists. The orchestra accompanied Mr. Johnston’s solo viola on Mozart’s Deh vieni alla finestra. O mio babbino caro, the popular aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi was surely familiar to even most non-opera fans as the theme from the film A Room with a View. Satie’s Je Te Veux was Dayton’s penultimate offering, with the premier performance of Mr.Kellaris’s composition Insalata Mista d'arie Italiana the as their finale.

The Orchestra dell'Accademia Internazionale di Mandolino was the third orchestra to take the stage. Comprised of musicians from Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Japan, Canada and the US, the group was founded by Maestro Carlo Aonzo as an outgrowth of the International Mandolin Academy. Sharing conducting duties was Stefano Squarzina. They introduced themselves to the audience with Mandonico’s Prelude and Fuge, followed by Calace’s Largo mesto from the Concerto in A minor No. 2 with Mr. Aonzo as the soloist. Two contemporary pieces rounded out the international orchestra’s portion of the concert: Suite Campesina by Sebastien Paci and C.P.O. Rhapsody by Mr. Squarzina.

An unscheduled quartet, consisting of Carlo Aonzo and 16-year-old Gordon Neidinger on mandolin, Lorenzo Sandi on bass, and Charley Rappaport on guitar played Monti’s Csárdás while the three orchestras prepared to assemble as one for the final grouping of the evening. The En Masse Orchestra also included two guest players from the Munier Mandolin Orchestra of Philadelphia, Harry Scherer and Joe Todero.

Maestro Aonzo started off the 80-piece orchestra with Calace’s Tarantella. In keeping with the Italian theme, Mr. Squarzina led the group in a rendition of the mazurka Mia Stella. Mr. Johnston completely changed the mood by conducting one of Scott Joplin’s lesser-known compositions, Peacherine Rag. Troika Bells Polka, conducted by Mr. Rappaport, took everyone on a nostalgic sleigh ride. And once more, Maestro Aonzo graced the audience with his virtuosity by playing Bruzzone’s Da Un Balcone Ungherese. The standing ovation left no other choice but an encore; the orchestra performed the American folk song Soldier’s Joy.

The weekend also included a very informative and instructive public workshop taught by Maestro Aonzo. As a feature of the workshop Mr. Rappaport gave a short presentation on the Russian domra and performed several duets with Mr. Neidinger.

Founded in 2002, the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra has grown from 15 members to over 40 and has captivated innumerable audiences in several states.

Planning has started for the 2012 Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra Festival, scheduled for spring. Individuals who would like to attend and play in the En Masse Orchestra are most welcome. Please visit www.pittsburghmandolinsociety.org for more information.