by ALICEN HACKNEY
Banners on the gate to the Anderson Center parking lot, advertise the UMW Philharmonic concerts most of the year, featuring the faces of famous musicians, actors and singers that students might not expect to see on campus. The likes of Kristin Chenoweth, Renee Fleming and Tony Bennett, as well as other celebrities, have performed on the UMW stage. Violinist Itzhak Perlman was the most recent famous musician to visit UMW on Oct. 26.
In 2004, music professor and director of the UMW Philharmonic Orchestra, Kevin Bartram, began the Philharmonic celebrity series program at UMW in order to bring richer experiences to musicians both on campus and in the community, and to build the prestige of the university. With the backing of then UMW president William Anderson, Bartram set out to find musicians, singers, and actors who could fit the criterion for the performances he had planned.
“We didn’t just want to bring in guest artists to perform solo recitals, we wanted them to be onstage with our players and wanted this to also build the quality and pride for our group,” said Bartram. “You can’t step onstage with Itzhak Perlman unless you are thoroughly prepared. It would be akin to the UMW basketball team inviting in LeBron James. You have to prepare yourselves as a team to perform with him near his level.”
“The concert with Paul Anka was a memory that I will never forget,” said Philharmonic violinist Michael Gilchrist, a senior communication and digital studies major. Anka performed with the Philharmonic in October 2018.
“Paul Anka was good friends with Frank Sinatra and wrote arguably his most iconic song ‘My Way,’ so being able to tell people that I performed with the man who wrote ‘My Way’ and who also had his own amazing songs such as ‘Put Your Head On My Shoulder,’ ‘Diana,’ and ‘Puppy Love,’ is an amazing thing to be able to say,” added Gilchrist.
“I truly believe that our most recent concert with Itzhak Perlman will always hold a place in my heart,” said Ivy Sanders, a sophomore music major and contrabassist. “He played the violin solo theme from the score to Schindler’s List. In that moment on stage, everything connected with me. Getting to witness such a great man – who has battled against polio and risen above all odds – perform music from a movie that portrays significant history to his own Jewish heritage made me cry whilst performing alongside him during our concert.”
To ensure the success of the Philharmonic program, the responsibility to create a welcoming and successful environment falls on every single member of the group. Over the years, due to the flourishing reputation of the Philharmonic program, Bartram has been able to invite celebrities to campus that he could only have dreamed of working with.
“We brought in Tony Bennett and he had such a great time here [in 2016]. The year after Tony Bennett I began to look for another artist like Tony, an iconic singer, so I approached Paul Anka’s agent,” said Bartram. “I found this out later from Paul Anka himself, he had called Tony Bennett and said, ‘I got an offer from this group I’ve never heard of in Fredericksburg, Virginia. What can you tell me?’ and Tony told him, ‘Paul, you’re gonna have a great time.’”
In order to support their program, the UMW Philharmonic doesn’t pull funds solely from the university. Due to the hefty cost of bringing celebrities to campus, the program is supported financially by the community and by the Friends of the Philharmonic group. These Friends of the Philharmonic community members participate in the performance events, trips and practices of the Philharmonic through donations, attending events as concert-goers and by joining the group as musicians alongside students of all backgrounds.
“The community members in our ensemble are all kind and extremely willing to share advice, whether it be musical or not, to any student; everybody collectively works to build each other up,” said Sanders. “The best part of being in an ensemble made up of so many people with different backgrounds is the love and acceptance that we all share for one another.”
“We have a mix of music majors and non-majors in the group, and that’s an important distinction between us and the big DI schools. Where the top ensembles at the big division one colleges you have to be a music major to get into, here that’s not the case, and that’s why we’re a liberal arts institution,” said Bartram. “More than half of the group of students are non-majors, and we’re proud of that.”
Unlike the theatre major requirement of attending the shows put on by the campus, music majors are not required to attend these events. While tickets to the Philharmonic events can be costly, the music department recognizes the burden on students, so often attendance can be counted as extra credit or students can discuss price reductions with professors and the department.
Following the legacy performance by Itzhak Perlman with the orchestra, the UMW Philharmonic is looking towards investing time in both returning celebrities and new performances with celebrities Bartram has on his bucket list. Violinist Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg will be performing at the February 16 concert, Norman Rockwell’s granddaughter Abigail Rockwell will be narrating the March 21 concert, and actor Dennis Quaid will be performing at the April 24 concert.