Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

The Orchestra on the Hill: collaborations in Ipswich

Ipswich’s The Orchestra on the Hill, with director Tom Palance (center-left, with trumpet)

Ipswich’s The Orchestra on the Hill, with director Tom Palance (center-left, with trumpet)

Sometimes the musicians inspire the audience. Sometimes, it can be the other way around.

Music director and founder of Ipswich-based The Orchestra on the Hill, Tom Palance, found his start on the streets of his small town.

“I had just moved here,” he says, “and I noticed a lot of artists and musicians around. I thought, ‘I’m going to get these people together, talk about art, and play music.’ That was ten years ago.”

So Palance founded The Orchestra on the Hill, first as a casual reading ensemble that got together as volunteers, mainly working through his own trumpet concerto material.

“We got together once a week at first,” he says. “But eventually I wanted to expand beyond trumpet concertos. I was teaching at Boston Conservatory, and I thought if I did more music it would be a wonderful way for me to keep up my conducting chops, and stay relevant for my students. So we began to extend our repertory.

“At first we were all volunteers,” he says. “But my schedule got too demanding to meet once a week”—Palance has recently been named to the Berklee School of Music faculty—“and we gravitated toward a more professional orchestra.”

The Orchestra on the Hill remains a small ensemble—“It’s a crew that has a passion for what we do,” he says—mostly from the North Shore, usually six violins, three violas and two cellos, with some winds and horns occasionally. “We rehearse for a week before the performances, like most orchestras.

“Now we do collaborations,” he says of the group’s repertory. “I’m interested in how dancers and visual artists work. When I asked other artists, they all said they start with one idea and expand on that. That’s the same thing musicians do.”

The Orchestra on the Hill—now fully professional—begins its season this Thursday evening at Castle Hill, with a program that includes the Brahms second Serenade, Stravinsky’s Pulchinella Suite, and a world premiere by composer-in-residence Chris Florio. As with all The Orchestra on the Hill performances, this one includes other artists—here, live poetry, to accompany the music.

In its ten years, the orchestra has explored a range of collaborations. A program entitled Images 16 had composer Robert Bradshaw creating a piece inspired by maritime artist John Stobart. Composer G. Paul Naeger wrote a setting for the poetry of Aline Blanchard. Florio previously composed a score that was animated by some of his students. Photographer Stoney Stone shot a series of images based on a composition by Kay Barney. And choreographer Anna Lisa Ledson created a dance based on a trumpet suite written by Palance.

“We display dancers, photographers, poets, visual artists and animators,” Palance says. “We talk about different motivations, and how we can bring that to the public. This October concert might be a little more traditional, but we are still bringing in poetry.”

Two poets, Lydia Brendel and Charlize Vermaak, both students at Ipswich High School, will read their work during the performance of Florio’s premiere. “Chris is on the cutting edge,” Palance says. “I wanted to do a collaboration with young poets, and so we held a poetry contest. Chris chose four poems and added some others. He’s used them as thematic material, and he created a multi-movement piece, about 20 minutes long. In each of the movements he features a different soloist.

“When you hear Chris’s music, you hear his own sound,” Palance says. “It’s modern sounding music, but it’s tonal. You can hear a lot of influences from gaming music.”

Upcoming performances for The Orchestra on the Hill include Bach & Beyond: A Festival of Trumpets, in March at the Gloucester Historical Society, the orchestra’s annual student soloists concert in April, and a collaboration in June with the Ipswich Moving Company dance troupe at Boone Hall in Ipswich.

The Orchestra on the Hill presents a world premiere by Chris Florio, and music by Brahms and Stravinsky, at the Crane Estate Ballroom at Castle Hill on Thursday, Oct. 18. For tickets and information visit www.theorchestraonthehill.org or call 520-499-0307.


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