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Neal Cary, principal cellist of the Richmond Symphony, is one of 95 musicians from more than a dozen U.S. orchestras playing in the All-Star Orchestra, an ensemble selected by conductor Gerard Schwarz to perform for a forthcoming public-television series on the symphony orchestra and the music composed for it.

The first season of “The All-Star Orchestra,” produced by WNET in New York, is expected to air on PBS next year. (Dates have not been announced.) There will be eight one-hour episodes, each of which will contrast familiar works by Dvorák, Brahms, Schumann, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Stravinsky and Ravel with pieces written recently by American composers, among them Philip Glass, Joseph Schwantner, Ellen Taafe Zwilich, Robert Beaser, Bright Sheng and Augusta Read Thomas.

“I felt very lucky to be asked to play,” said Cary, who has worked with Schwarz at the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina, where Schwarz is music director. Cary also has taught the conductor’s son, cellist Julian Schwarz.

Cary recently returned from four days of sessions at the Manhattan Center, a familiar venue for recording sessions in New York since the 1950s. Schwarz and the orchestra spent six hours a day taping, with 19 cameras shooting the sessions, Cary said.

“We had no rehearsals, but [Schwarz] had marked all the [instrumental] parts very carefully . . . and with the standard pieces, all of us were quite familiar with the music.”

The All-Star Orchestra drew musicians from such leading ensembles as the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera’s MET Orchestra. The All-Stars’ first violin section boasted concertmasters from 10 orchestras, and its wind section included a number of principals of major orchestras.

“The standard of playing was just incredible,” Cary said. “One of the most memorable moments for me was from the first taping we did. I was seated between Steve Honisberg of [Washington’s] National Symphony and Maria Kitsopoulus of the New York Philharmonic. His cello is a Stradivarius; hers is a Testore. It was quite an experience to hear such wonderful instruments at such close range.”

The series will be unusual in its mixture of standard and contemporary works. “It’s been a long time since I had played a contemporary piece that was any good,” the cellist remarked, “but these were all home runs.” Cary was especially impressed with a new cello concerto by the Texas-based composer Samuel Jones, which featured Julian Schwarz as the soloist.

Other than “Live from Lincoln Center,” which regularly features the New York Philharmonic, and the Michael Tilson Thomas-San Francisco Symphony series “Keeping Score,” U.S. orchestras rarely are seen and heard on network television these days. European ensembles still perform frequently on telecasts, and those make their way onto cable channels and the DVD market.

The forthcoming series “should increase the profile of American orchestras,” Cary said, and its educational format “might help increase attendance for our concerts.”

To learn more about the All-Star Orchestra, visit its website at www.allstarorchestra.org
6 years ago | Read Full Story
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