In the ten years since the Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra (NDSO) was founded, it has carved out a niche in the region presenting programs that are a bit eclectic, juxtaposing the unexpected. One pairing combined Argentinean tango and Baroque music, and the most recent production this February brought together Gilbert and Sullivan with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Artistic director and conductor Kathleen Beckmann, who founded NDSO, likens it to the way that fusion cuisine keeps our palates alert with unpredictable accents. “We feel that our audience enjoys a wide variety and a mix of styles,” she says. “Just as culinary tastes have broadened in recent years, I try to bring that to the orchestra programming. Society is changing and evolving all the time, so we like to reflect that.”
The Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra’s tenth season will open with a multimedia experience on Saturday, April 2 at 8 p.m. in the Culinary Institute of America’s Marriott Pavilion in Hyde Park. Under the direction of Beckmann, the orchestra will perform the premiere of Walkway over the Hudson, an original symphonic work commissioned by NDSO and written by 24-year-old composer Ben Kutner. Each of the three movements in the piece represents a distinct phase that the Walkway has gone through, from its origins as an active train bridge to abandonment after a fire to becoming the monumental footbridge and tourist draw that it is today.
Visual enhancement to the music will be provided by images of the Walkway projected on screens behind the orchestra. The images were culled from thousands of photographs taken over the course of 23 years by Poughkeepsie attorney and amateur photographer Fred Schaeffer, who saw the potential in the bridge early on and was a driving force behind its transformation.
Tickets for the concert cost $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.
“We wanted to do something special for our tenth anniversary, and creating a new symphonic work and tying it in with something local made a lot of sense,” says Beckmann. “And since we’re a young orchestra just starting out, to use a young composer just starting out in his career seemed like a good fit for us.”
Kutner also seemed a good fit for the project, she adds. “Some composers write music that’s very hard to absorb the first time, whereas Ben’s is very accessible. He does use some dissonance, but not a lot. He loves to use polyrhythmic – a mixture of rhythms going on at the same time – and that really works well in this, because there’s a lot of energy with that, and there are a lot of things going on with the Walkway all the time.”
Kutner is a New York City-based composer, conductor and multi-instrumentalist. Since graduating from Brown University in 2014, he has composed for symphony orchestra, opera, dance and film. Already familiar with the Walkway from visits to the Hudson Valley, Kutner says of his composition that the three movements of the piece “all have threads of interconnectivity – a way to trace the changing function of the bridge while still maintaining its recognizable shape. I wanted the audience to hear the same bridge at every moment of the piece.”
Schaeffer has been a practicing attorney in Dutchess County for more than 30 years and is a former president of the Dutchess County Bar Association. His hobbies of bicycling, photography and history led him years ago to become interested in the historic Poughkeepsie-to-Highland railroad bridge – an interest that eventually culminated in his becoming chairman in 2004 of the nonprofit organization that transformed the structure into Walkway over the Hudson.
“Fred proclaims to be an amateur photographer, but he’s actually quite good,” says Beckmann. “And it’s wonderful to have all these pictures that he’s taken over the years when he was trying to convince people [to convert the bridge to the Walkway]. There are some very interesting photos in the second movement showing when the bridge was closed, and you can see it’s in disrepair; there’s a big ‘stop’ sign. And the third movement includes wonderful shots of the Walkway Marathon and the opening ceremonies in 2009 with marching bands going across the bridge; you really get a feel for what has happened there.”
In recognition of another milestone – the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service – the program on April 2 will include a performance of Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, accompanied by projected photographs of that site, some taken by Hudson Valley residents. “It’ll be a fun program,” says Beckmann, “with a little bit of the feeling of the outdoors as we get into spring.” The Grand Canyon Suite will feature an unusual instrument in the percussion section that simulates the sound of the wind. “We’ll have quite the storm, I think, amplified in the auditorium!”
A retired orchestra director at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, Beckmann is a strong advocate of music education. During her tenure as a public school music teacher, she served on the Executive Board for the state National School Orchestra Association and was the editor for the publication Orchestrations. Her ongoing commitment to music education includes conducting and adjudicating at state and county music festivals, coordinating NDSO workshops and educational programs and encouraging talented student musicians through participation in NDSO rehearsals and performances.
Most of the orchestra’s performances feature 40 to 50 musicians, depending on the repertoire. Walkway over the Hudson will have a full symphonic orchestra. The NDSO does four major concerts each season, along with a number of smaller performances with chamber groups. It also offers something called “The Orchestra Comes to You,” where a small performance group is brought out into the community, like the recent visit to Woodland Pond in New Paltz. “Their in-house chorus performed with us for a couple of pieces,” says Beckman.
Until recently, NDSO performances were held in the auditorium at Rhinebeck High School. Switching that up now with some performances at the Culinary Institute’s Marriott Pavilion offers the organization two very different venues. “We intend to do shows at both places – at least in the near future – to take advantage of the different performance options each offers,” says Beckmann. “The main thing is: We want the orchestra to be for the community, and we hope we are providing something that is special, and also affordable. We think that’s important. It makes it tough for us to keep going as an organization, but we are committed to keeping it in a price range that people can afford, and we hope that they’ll support us.”
Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra premieres Walkway over the Hudson, Saturday, April 2, 8 p.m., $5-$20, Marriott Pavilion, Culinary Institute of America, 1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park; (845) 635-0877, www.ndsorchestra.org.