By GWEN OREL
Montclair will soon have its own standing orchestra.
Not a small chamber group, but a proper orchestra, led by a conductor/music director who is the concert master, or top violinist, of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
David Chan, of Closter, is The Montclair Orchestra’s new conductor. Andre Weker, of Montclair, is the group’s president. It was Weker who came up with the concept and is responsible for the administrative side of the new group. The orchestra’s debut concert will take place in the fall of 2017, but Montclairites can learn about the group sooner: The two men will discuss the orchestra on Sunday, March 12, at 3 p.m., at the Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave. Quartet 212 of the New York metropolitan Opera Orchestra will perform. The event is free, but tickets are required. As of Monday, the event is sold out- but according to a post on the group’s Facebook site, they will be live streaming the event.
About a year ago, Weker said, he began having conversations with people in town that went this way: “We have all this culture in town — music, culture, the art museum, the Montclair Film Festival — but not a standing orchestra. The light started to click for a number of people I spoke to, who said, ‘That’s incredible, how do we not have an orchestra?’ We have all sorts of programs with amazing music coming through, but not a standing orchestra.” Weker, who studied bassoon at Boston University, has been a stay-at-home parent since 2010. Before that, he was in the environmental remediation industry, he said.
The two men spoke to the Local at Chan’s home, before he had to depart for rehearsal.
WHY FORM AN ORCHESTRA?
Montclair does have musical groups come through town — but not so many orchestras as you might think, Weker said. The New York Philharmonic used to come, but doesn’t now. Montclair State University has student orchestras, but there isn’t a regular visit by a professional group.
“For me, one of the things I’m trying to do is ground things in Montclair,” Weker said.
Chan agreed, adding, “Another key point is that when you build a new ensemble, you have an opportunity to connect with audiences that might not have previously attended concerts.” Like New Yorkers who never take the time to visit the Statue of Liberty, Montclairites may know symphony orchestras are out there and just never get around to seeing one. Having an orchestra in town will help people connect the music to their community, he said.
The men agreed that having music in intimate venues might also help people appreciate it in a way they might not otherwise.
Weker said the new group may also help people realize that orchestral music is not just Beethoven. The composer of the music to HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Ramin Djawadi, has been touring with his music as “The Game of Thrones Experience” (the concert will come to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, March 7.)
STARTING A NEW GROUP
Before going very far with the orchestra, Weker knew he needed a music director. So he and his board advertised to find a conductor. They received more than 100 applications, some from as far away as Belarus. Chan was announced as the new music director in November 2016. In addition to his work at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chan is on the faculty of The Juilliard School and the Mannes School of Music.
Where Weker is responsible for the administrative end, Chan will oversee the artistic development of the organization. He will develop the ensemble, program the concerts and commission new works.
“David is our Roderigo,” Weker said with a laugh, referring to the charismatic genius conductor of the Amazon Original series “Mozart in the Jungle.” Chan had co-founded, in 2008, the Musique & Vin au Clos Veugeot (“music and wine at Clos Veugeot”) festival in France, so had direct experience in programming events and attracting talent to perform.
The dividing line between administrative and artistic roles is blurry, Chan said: “If you don’t have a board or president who cares deeply about music, you’re going to always be fighting an uphill battle.” And a music director like himself needs to be involved with fundraising, attend parties, do interviews, be the face of the organization.
The ensemble Chan oversees will all be paid: some will be professional musicians, some gifted amateurs, and some will be music students. The size of the orchestra will depend on the music and the venue; the smallest chamber orchestra might have 20 to 30 players, and the largest may have about 60 players. On average the orchestra will probably have about 40 musicians. About 150 people signed up to audition, with about 40 more musicians deferred. Chan and Weker want to curate the makeup of the orchestra to be about 40 percent professionals, 30 percent amateur, and 30 percent students, but it will depend on the quality of the players who audition, Chan said. “It will be fluid.”
Weker said he has been pleasantly surprised by the people who are gifted amateurs, such as a person who is a “cardiologist by day but studied bass at Oberlin and plays at a high professional level.”
Many of the auditioners are from Montclair, he said.
Chan said, “Music is like a language, except maybe it’s more universal than any specific spoken language.” It’s a language that many who don’t speak it now may find themselves wanting to learn.
Montclair Orchestra Public Introductory Session and Concert
Sunday, March 12, 3 p.m.
Montclair Public Library
50 South Fullerton Ave.