Building a Symphonic Bridge from Finland to Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN – In creating the program for Sunday’s concert by the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, Erik Ochsner wanted to share his own roots while saluting the history of the Mahoning Valley.

The result is “Unknown & Gorgeous: River & Iron,” which will feature works by Scandinavian, Russian and American composers. Ochsner will lead the YSO in concert at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Stambaugh Auditorium.

He sees “Unknown & Gorgeous” as a way for Youngstown audiences to get to know him on a more personal level. Ocshner made the program specifically for this concert.

“I have two passports – Finland and America,” he said in a phone interview in December. “Iron and the Mahoning River are big things here. I took this dual track [to create a program] to introduce myself to this audience and this orchestra.”

The concert will begin with Aaron Copland’s “John Henry,” which is about the powerful “steel-driving man” of African American folklore.

The first half of the evening will also include “Kalevipoeg,” by the Estonian composer Eugene Kapp; “Kalevala Sarja,” an epic piece by Finnish composer Uuno Klami; and “The Iron Foundry,” by Russian composer Alexander Mosolov.

To set the mood for “The Iron Foundry,” black and white footage of steel being poured and shaped in a Youngstown mill will be shown on an overhead screen.

The second half of the concert will start with “Rolling River” by American composer Peter Boyer. It will be followed by “Old and Lost Rivers” by Tobias Picker, who is also an American.

The concert will end with Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome” – a familiar and powerful piece in which the late Italian composer musically describes the Roman countryside.

“The rolling hills around Youngstown and Ohio make it absolutely perfect” as a concert closer, Ochsner said.

An off-stage trumpet player will be used for “The Pines of Rome,” along with Stambaugh’s pipe organ and six extra brass players from Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music.

While assembling the program, Ochsner kept the city and its people in mind.

“As a music director, it’s important to be like a doctor,” he said. “You have to ask, ‘What kind of music does this orchestra and this audience want – and need – to hear?’ And then, ‘Can we surprise the audience by putting something new next to something they know?’”

That is something he loves to do.

“One of my passions is music that isn’t often performed,” he said. “I have never conducted Beethoven’s Fifth. But I’ve always found an interest in exposing people to things they haven’t heard. That’s my passion.”

To pursue this passion, Ochsner founded the Sonos Chamber Orchestra in New York, and directs it.

“It performs a bunch of repertoire that you’ve never heard of,” he said. “It gives me pleasure to open people’s ears.”

Sunday’s concert will be the second of Ochsner’s three appearances with the YSO this season. He led the orchestra in “Home Alone” in December, in which the orchestra played the score while the movie was shown on a screen.

His final appearance will be April 26, when he will lead a special concert that will also include Youngstown rock band The Vindys.

Ochsner is internationally known for his film-score concerts. In addition to “Home Alone,” his repertoire includes “Ghostbusters,” “Back to the Future,” “E.T., the Extraterrestrial,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and others.

Ochsner, who also served as a guest conductor with the YSO last season, is a candidate for the position of music director and conductor of the orchestra. The post has been vacant for several years.

Tickets for Sunday’s concert can be purchased in advance at the box office at DeYor Performing Arts Center; by phone at 330 259 9651; and online HERE.

Pictured at top: Erik Ochsner will lead the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra on Sunday. (Photo by Konstantin Gribov)

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.