Fifty Years of Music and Community
The Merrimack Valley Philharmonic Orchestra, which began in 1961 as a gathering of local musicians with a small grant from Raytheon, has endured the trials of time to become not only one of the region’s finest, but also a sanctuary for the hearts and souls of music lovers from all walks of life. Today, the orchestra (MVPO) makes its home at the Rogers Center at Merrimack College in North Andover, where it performs five concerts each season and prides itself on being a magnet for people of all ages, its music providing a brief reprieve from the everyday rigors of modern life.
George Monseur, the MVPO’s third music director and conductor, is a professor of conducting studies in the composition department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and former conductor of the Brookline Symphony Orchestra. During his 27 years with the MVPO, Monseur has made it his mission to give the audience a high quality musical experience and to make it feel welcome. “Our audience is our family,” he says. “So often, classical music is seen as being very lofty; people feel distanced by it. We do all we can to make them feel at home.”
The MVPO works to make itself accessible, especially to younger people, by giving high school-age soloists the opportunity to perform. Families and children are encouraged to attend, and the orchestra itself boasts a mother and son duo. Monseur, a warm and gregarious man, creates a cheerful atmosphere at concerts, joking with the audience and giving kids the chance to participate by becoming “guest conductors.” Each year, the MVPO presents the Nicholas Van Slyck Scholarship, named after the orchestra’s second music director and conductor, to a local high school senior who plans to continue studying music.
The MVPO’s popularity also can be traced to its ability to select music that entertains as well as expands the cultural perspective of its audience. MVPO President Beverly Abegg, explains: “Our programs are decisively designed by a committee to include pieces that people will find familiar and others that are likely new to them. It’s our goal to broaden horizons while lightening hearts.”
That attention to quality and detail, and the ability to make itself an enjoyable place for guest musicians to play, has earned the MVPO a solid reputation in Greater Boston and beyond. The MVPO has played host to many notable guests, including oboist John Ferrillo of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who will perform Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C Major with the MVPO in March, and vocalist Renese King, who sang “America the Beautiful” with the Boston Pops at its Fourth of July concert in the summer of 2010.
Still, as is the case with many community orchestras, running the MVPO is often a balancing act when it comes to funds. Phyllis Forsyth, a charter member of the MVPO and principal second violinist for 40 years, today serves as the orchestra’s operations manager. She notes, “There is a lot of music we’d like to perform that’s simply too expensive, but in the end it’s not about money. There are all kinds of people up on that stage, from housewives to music teachers to physicists, and in enriching their lives, we enrich those of everyone who hears us.”
For ticket information, concert schedule, or if you are a musician seeking information on becoming a member of the MVPO, visit www.mvpomusic.org.