Music News & Reviews

Symphony of the Vines remembers Sept. 11 with concerts

Conductor Greg Magie and master violinist Jim Riccardo of Symphony of the Vines.
Conductor Greg Magie and master violinist Jim Riccardo of Symphony of the Vines. TRIBUNE PHOTO BY JOE JOHNSTON

When the Symphony of the Vines performs Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” on Sept. 11, there will be tears.

The 26-member symphony, joined by an 80-member choir, will perform the piece — considered by some to be the saddest classical work ever composed — on the 10th anniversary of America’s saddest day.

“Every time I hear that piece, or play it, tears come to my eyes,” said James Riccardo, concertmaster of the symphony. “The ‘Adagio’ is probably one of the two or three great contributions by an American composer to the repertoire of classical music.”

Yet, as the world remembers the 3,000 people killed in a shocking string of terrorist attacks 10 years ago, the symphony will not set out to make people cry during its Mission San Miguel concert, Riccardo said.

“I don’t think we’re trying to bring back that sadness,” Riccardo said. “This is to honor.”

Of course, the mere mention of 9/11 evokes sadness. And the “Adagio” — first performed in 1938 — is often played at major funerals because it is so somber.

“But the music is in its own way cathartic because you can live through the emotions of reliving that experience, and that is a positive thing,” said Greg Magie, the conductor of the Symphony.

Magie first considered a 10th anniversary memorial concert last September. At that time, the Symphony of the Vines, which Magie created, was still in its infancy.

Magie first conducted with the Redlands Symphony in 1995. Since that time, the Eastman School of Music grad has conducted and taught in numerous places on the East and West coasts. When he moved to the Central Coast to be closer to family four years ago, he quickly sought out fellow musicians and decided to start an orchestra based in the North County.

By a stroke of luck, Riccardo — a former violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra— moved to the area last summer, when his wife took a job at Atascadero State Hospital.

“I had come out here not knowing exactly what I would do as a professional musician,” he said. “I knew this wasn’t Los Angeles and it wasn’t San Francisco.”

By coincidence, a neighbor happened to be a violinist as well. And that neighbor knew that Magie was looking for a concertmaster.

The memorial event will include two dates — a Sept. 10 performance at the Performing Arts Center in Templeton and the mission gig. The symphony will be joined by a choir Magie assembled, mostly to perform Mozart’s vocal-heavy “Requiem.”

“I knew I wanted to do the requiem — I just didn’t know where the chorus was going to come from,” Magie said.

Luckily, the local music scene is a tight-knit one. So Magie called on Tom Davies, conductor of the Cuesta Master Chorale, who hooked him up with Cuesta singers. Magie also got in touch with Marek Zebrowski, a USC teacher and artistic director of the Paderewski Festival, who brought in four grad students to perform solos. And finally, Magie brought in singers from the First Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo, where he serves as director of the choir.

With a large choir and a strong orchestra, the concerts should evoke plenty of emotions. But while 9/11 sparked a fervent round of patriotism, Riccardo said the memorial concerts are not intended to be patriotic.

“For me it feels more like a memorial,” he said. “It doesn’t bring out great pride. This is about suffering. This is about loss of life, the indignity you had to put up with — people being covered in soot who had a normal life a few minutes before. I’m not proud to be an American because of 9/11. But I think it made me proud of Americans.”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.