By Lou Mancinelli
Classical music is not the most popular music in a country in which “American Idol” receives as many as 60 million “votes” each week by phone or text message for young pop star wannabes. The fact that the 111-year-old Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the world’s most renowned musical ensembles, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy recently only reinforces such a view.
But this month, Mt. Airy resident Rosalind Erwin will conduct a 42-piece orchestra with plans to make the sometimes considered high-brow art form “more accessible” to the average person and to benefit autistic children at the same time.
“A Special Concert For Children” is a Valley Forge Educational Services (VFES) fundraiser to benefit VFES’s mission to assist children with autism spectrum disorders and special learning needs, Saturday May 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Immaculata University’s Alumnae Hall in East Whiteland Township, Chester County.
The performance will feature well-known soloists Richard and Brandon Ridenour, as well as a performance by VFES student 12-year-old Efecan Sirin, who learned to play violin at his own request at age seven. He was informally taught by his mother and grandmother.
“We’ve put together a program that is a combination of lighter classics and music that is more user-friendly,” said Erwin, who asked that her age not be mentioned. “It’s not going to be a ‘just come in, sit down and listen to music’ event. It’s to entertain and to showcase the fact that autistic kids do all sorts of great things.”
There have been many people throughout history who suffered from autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) before the conditions had labels. Beethoven is one example. “He probably had Asperger’s syndrome,” said Erwin.
In his 2005 study “The Genesis of Artistic Creativity,” Professor Michael Fitzgerald, a psychiatrist at Trinity College in Dublin, lists Mozart, philosopher Immanuel Kant and writers George Orwell (“Animal Farm”) and Lewis Carroll (“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”) as geniuses who probably suffered from some form of autism.
The first half of the show designed by Erwin will feature well-known classical pieces like the “Warsaw Concerto,” from the movie “Dangerous Moonlight,” and the final movement from Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” But after intermission, it’s time to loosen the tie for a Big Band tribute with songs like “April in Paris,” “Sing, Sing, Sing” (made popular by Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa) and “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” which will include audience participation. Plans also call for a tango and Brazilian music.
Erwin was born in Montana but was raised in Doylestown and graduated from Central Bucks High School, the New School of Music in Philadelphia and Temple University’s Esther Boyer College of Music. In 2005, she and the Pottstown Symphony Orchestra (PSO) were broadcast on WHYY in pre-recorded concerts, including Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto” with David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
As a clarinetist, Erwin soloed with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the DePaul Chamber Orchestra, and performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Delaware Symphony. She was the driving force behind the creation of Musica 2000/The Symphony Orchestra, presenting numerous world premieres of commissions by emerging American and Eastern European composers.
In 1998, Erwin, left PSO, where she was music director and conductor, to pursue conducting opportunities in Europe. Her 42-piece orchestra is composed of professional musicians, many of whom have performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the past.
“Having seen Rosalind Erwin conduct,” said Riccardo Muti, former music director for the Philadelphia Orchestra, “I have been pleased to recognize her musical and technical talents as a teacher and conductor.”
“We have to find a way to make classical music relevant,” said Erwin. “I think one way to do it is with audience participation.” The entire evening is held in conjunction with the 28th Annual Immaculata University Art Show.
“We used to do golf outings for fundraisers, but everyone does golf outings,” said Mario Dickerson, chief advancement officer at VFES. “We came up with the concert as a way to celebrate our diverse offerings in addition to our new educational components. Art and music are closely linked.”
Immaculata officials thought the event would be a good way to bring new people to their school’s art show, he said, and “it’s a great way to spread the word about our organization.”
For more information, contact VFES at 215-296-6725 or www.vfes.net or Immaculata University (1145 King Rd., Immaculata) at 610-647-4400 ext. 3133.