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It has been more than half a century since Marvin Rabin founded the original Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, or WYSO. It has since expanded to three full orchestras, two string orchestras, a chamber music program, a harp program, a percussion ensemble, a brass choir program and the WYSO Music Makers program. The majority of the 5,000-plus participants over the decades have not gone on to professional music careers, but a considerable number have, and this Friday night, WYSO welcomes back WYSO alumna Nancy Goeres, who has been principal bassoonist of the Pittsburgh Symphony since 1984.
Goeres will perform along with principal clarinetist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Michael Rusinek at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22 at Mills Hall in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s George L. Mosse Humanities Building.
A native of Lodi, Goeres is not just an alumna — she was, in fact, a member of Rabin’s first orchestra in 1966.
Goeres started playing bassoon in the sixth grade, then her teacher pointed her to WYSO. “Playing in an orchestra just made me want to play bassoon all the time — and it was such a wonderful way to meet people when you’re at a vulnerable age,” Goeres says. “There were so many different people, many of them from small towns outside Madison, but they had the same focus that I did. WYSO opened up my world in personal ways, not just in music.”
Before she finished high school, she spent a summer at the famed Boston University Tanglewood Institute, hearing and meeting the principal bassoonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That helped her make up her mind to study with him at Boston University, and her career moved so quickly that she never had the need — or time — for graduate studies. For a few years now she has taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and at Boston University.
WYSO turned out to be a kind of magnet for the Goeres family: Nancy’s mother, Sue, served for many years on the WYSO board, two of her sisters and a brother all played in WYSO, and her niece, Elise, is now principal bassoonist of the Houston Symphony.
Goeres will be joined by Rusinek in this Friday’s performance, and the pair will present the Wisconsin premiere of the Double Concerto by Jonathan Leshnoff.
“We gave the world premiere in June,” Goeres says. “Both Michael and I have had other concertos written for us and our PSO director asked if we would like a double concerto written for us. I spoke to Jonathan about being careful not to make the orchestral parts too difficult — I was thinking not only of WYSO and other youth orchestras, but even professional groups can be less likely to program pieces like this if too much is required. It will be a challenge for WYSO — but I know they’ll do a wonderful job.”
The conductor will be Kyle Knox, who is in his second season as music director and WYSO’s Youth Orchestra conductor. No stranger to WYSO even before he took on his latest gig, Knox also shared some thoughts about what the group means to the players.
“Contrary to the glamour and striving for personal recognition that comes with so much of competitive musical life, ensemble playing (and especially orchestra) is primarily about working together,” Knox says. “It is about solving problems as a group, about relying on each other, about being part of something bigger than yourself. This may be the single most important lesson that we teach our students.”
Regardless of what people end up doing after their time in WYSO, Knox says, they’ve all gone through the process of developing an appreciation for the arts and humanities — of being a part of something bigger than themselves. “These experiences leave an imprint that people carry with them for the rest of their lives,” he says.
On Friday, the audience can experience all the fruits of WYSO: a soloist whom the group helped launch into a professional career, and the majority of the orchestra, which in the course of sharing their joy of making music, will have solved some tricky problems in music new and old.
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