BWW Interview: Catching Up With The Maestro! Conductor and McCallum CEO Mitch Gershenfeld Prepares For The Upcoming McCallum Theatre Band Concert!
The McCallum Theatre is tuning up for the 7th annual concert by the McCallum Theatre Concert Band, with conductor and McCallum Theatre President & CEO Mitch Gershenfeld, on Sunday, March 24, at 3:00pm. Highlights of this year's concert will be a performance of the beloved "Carnival of the Animals" by Saint-Saens featuring pianist Jeffrey Siegel and a new text written and performed by David Gonzalez, and special guest appearances by Gavin MacLeod (narrator) and former TEN Tenor Chad Hilligus (guest vocalist). And, after the concert, there is free ice cream for everyone! I had the chance to catch up with Maestro Gershenfeld to get a glimpse behind the scenes of this season's concert. Here are a few excerpts from that conversation:
DG: Give me the history of The McCallum Theatre Concert Band -- how did you come up with the idea and how many years have you been doing this?
MG: I started the McCallum Theatre Concert Band seven years ago. I wanted to work with the best musicians, so we hire players who regularly work in the recording studios in Los Angeles. You've heard every one of the players in the band on movies, television shows, video game soundtracks and music recordings.
DG: People know you as the CEO of The McCallum Theatre but you have quite a musical background. Tell me about that.
MG: I started playing professionally when I was still in high school. I have been fortunate to play in orchestras, with Broadway road companies and the recording studios with people such as Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta. My instrument was the tuba, and I have great memories of playing in concert bands over the years. I taught music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was the Music Producer for the Cultural Olympiad of the 1996 Olympic Games. So I've had a lot of music in my past jobs.
DG: How do you select the music and/or theme for the annual concert?
MG: I really just choose music that I like. We always do some marches, and we add original concert works for band and transcriptions of great orchestral music.
DG: What do you anticipate as highlights from this season's concert?
MG: I'm very excited to be playing the Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns. Many people know this work with humorous verses written by Ogden Nash in 1949. For our performance, we have new verses written and performed by David Gonzalez. Dr. Gonzalez is a storyteller who has worked with our education department for many years. These verses are a lot of fun, and provide some description of the music that follows them. The prominent piano part in the work will be played by Jeffrey Siegel, who will be presenting one of his Keyboard Conversations programs the following night. The other piece I am really looking forward to is The Greatest Generation by Robert W. Smith. Gavin MacLeod will narrate this stirring patriotic tribute to The Greatest Generation.
DG: Do you have a favorite moment or selection from a concert of years past?
MG: I enjoy collaborating with soloists, and it was a great joy to perform Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Jeffrey Siegel a couple of years ago. We also did a beautiful arrangement of Gershwin's An American in Paris.
DG: Where do the musicians come from and how much rehearsal will there be for this concert?
MG: These musicians are so good - they have to be to get hired for the studios in Los Angeles. We have only one rehearsal on the morning of the concert. Then we have lunch and put on a show. They are all great sight readers, but I have to spend an entire year learning the music.
DG: How do you prepare yourself to conduct such an illustrious event?
MG: The most important thing is to study and know every note that every instrument plays. After that, I just go out and have a good time!
DG: The McCallum is in the middle of a tremendous performance season. Has there been a highlight for you so far? And any upcoming production or event you are particularly looking forward to?
MG: We've had a wonderful season. There are lots of highlights and some great shows still to come. I am very happy that audiences have responded well to our National Geographic Live series. We'll have more of those next season. And it's always fun to have The Ten Tenors in Palm Desert. We have shows coming up ranging from the hilarious Broadway hit Something Rotten to The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain to Rob Lowe to Chris Botti. And we'll be announcing our 2019 - 2020 season soon.
DG: What do you hope McCallum audiences take away from an afternoon with The McCallum Concert Band?
MG: We hope to recreate the kind of Sunday afternoon band concerts that took place around this country in the 19th and 20th centuries. And to help people with that experience, everyone gets free ice cream in the lobby after the concert!
Don't miss The McCallum Theatre Band Concert March 24th at 3:00 pm. This year's Band Concert is presented through the generosity of Jo Ann Davis and Kay Hanson. Tickets for this performance are priced at $60, $40, $30 and $20. Tickets are available at the Theatre's website at www.mccallumtheatre.com or by calling the McCallum Theatre Box Office at (760) 340-2787.