Two years ago, as the new music director of the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, Jonathan Handman decided that he had two central missions with the orchestra. The first was to lead the best possible performances. The second was to enlarge the orchestra’s audience. They were, of course, connected: The better the concerts, the more people they would draw. But Handman also wanted to perform music people would want to hear. The chamber orchestra could play Mozart and Haydn, and maybe Beethoven, but certainly not Schumann, Brahms and Dvorák. It needed to expand.
Over Handman’s tenure, the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra has indeed performed Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Dvorák, gradually adding more players. By the end of last season, it had become obvious that this was no longer a chamber orchestra. And at the last concert of last season, the orchestra’s executive director, Dana Marks, announced a new mission and a new name: the Woodstock Symphony Orchestra.
Within the available season of four concerts, Handman intends to present as wide a variety of music as he can. The opening concert of the 2018/19 season includes music by Suppé, Borodin, Smetana and, yes, Beethoven: the beloved “Pastorale,” Symphony No. 6. It’s something of a “top pops” orchestral concert, and will probably attract a good-sized audience to the Woodstock Playhouse.
The remainder of the season, which takes place at four different venues, will include Sibelius’ Second Symphony (January 19), Elgar’s Enigma Variations (March 9) and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (April 27/28). But it also includes somewhat-lesser-known works, such as Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld Overture and Dvorák’s Eighth Symphony, a masterpiece that is not the “New World” Symphony. In the future, Handman hopes to explore the legacy of past Woodstock Chamber Orchestra commissions by well-known local composers, along with similarly attractive but lesser-known music – music that only a true symphony orchestra can perform.
Woodstock Symphony Orchestra debut, Saturday, November 10, 7:30 p.m., $25/$20/$5, Woodstock Playhouse, 103 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock; (845) 266-3517, www.woodstocksymphonyorchestra.org.