Arts & Entertainment

Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra, Driven by Passion

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For nearly 15 years, this all-volunteer orchestra has grown through the dedicated passion of its musicians. See what’s still to come in this year’s lineup, which is full of surprises.

The Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra, an independent nonprofit group, is built upon the work of volunteer musicians who love to perform.  (Sarah Soenke photo)

The Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra, an independent nonprofit group, is built upon the work of volunteer musicians who love to perform. (Sarah Soenke photo)

Community orchestras often thrive on the passion of their members. For the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra (LGSO), an independent nonprofit group, the love of performance is a driving force that inspires a visible passion onstage. This orchestra, for nearly 15 years, has been fostering a community of passionate musicians.

Led by music director David Anderson, about 70 members of the orchestra perform a range of pieces and styles every year for the Lake Geneva area.

“I don’t think there could ever be a better guy than Anderson for the music director’s job, because he definitely expects the most from us, but he has a very kind attitude about it,” says Lisa Gauslow, concertmaster and violinist. “He’s funny and he’s understanding, which is good for a community orchestra because people are volunteering their time to be here. It’s so important that he knows how to drive rehearsals and get the best out of us while respecting our time.”

The orchestra’s members travel from neighboring cities and counties, some driving more than an hour each way. They perform in community venues, from Elkhorn Area High School to the Riviera Ballroom. And every Thursday, they gather for rehearsals at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lake Geneva.

“Everyone has the same goal: to just make music together, to make it as wonderful as we can,” says Sue Childress, flute and piccolo player. “We are all volunteers, so we’re not getting paid for this. We spend every week practicing together, plus extra rehearsals and hours of practice outside of that. It’s just for that love of music.”

Beginnings as an Amateur Symphony

In March 2001, Elgin violist Andy Dogan answered an ad to become a conductor for a new community orchestra in Walworth County.

“It’s been a model of steady growth ever since it began,” says Mike Frazier, cellist and board member. “We began with about nine players and, through Dogan’s leadership, grew to a full symphony orchestra. We changed our name from the Lake Geneva Community Orchestra to Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra around the same time we hired Anderson in 2009, and this recognized we were performing the standard symphonic repertoire.”

As the second music director for the LGSO, Anderson has overseen the continued growth of the orchestra’s quality and scope. Every season, the LGSO performs three concerts of symphonic music, ranging from the classic masterpieces to less familiar and more modern works. Beyond the orchestra’s three mainstage concerts, Anderson has shown a knack for strategic experimentation to keep musicians and audience members engaged.

“When I program for the orchestra, it’s kind of like a diet; you can’t have all vegetables and you can’t have all desserts,” he says. “You have to have a broad base of things that taste really good and things that are good for you – often, these are the same things. You have to have some long pieces and some short pieces and then different eras of music represented.”

Upon Anderson’s arrival, he set out to have the LGSO perform one major Beethoven symphony each season. This “Beethoven Project” has challenged and delighted orchestra members.

“From a bassoon player’s perspective, Beethoven is really fantastic to play,” says Derek Kane, principal bassoonist and orchestra member for 10 years. “Beethoven understood the instrument as well as anybody and really wrote a lot of gorgeous parts.”

Thinking beyond the classics, Anderson has also led the LGSO toward a wider repertoire, one that caters to many age groups and musical tastes. This past October, the orchestra performed its first Halloween family concert at Lake Geneva Middle School, in a family-friendly performance that included cinematic works from “Frozen” and “Star Wars.” Both performers and listeners were encouraged to come in costume.

“I was dressed as a wizard for the first few pieces, and then for the last piece we performed, I came out as Olaf the snowman,” says Anderson. “For the past few years, we’ve done a special concert like this that engages a certain segment of the population. This year was Halloween, but we’ve had years that featured a Christmas concert. It is important to connect with as many groups of people as possible.”

LGSO also delivers classical music to area school children, through their annual School Day concert, which brings special programmed performances to area schools. The LGSO’s Young Artist Concerto Competition also reaches young musicians. The winner is invited to perform with the orchestra, as a guest musician, during a select show.

Every summer, the LGSO travels outside Walworth County to perform outdoor concerts and reach new audiences.

“It’s an opportunity to get out and let people see us where they might not otherwise,” says Amy Beth, board president, violinist and cellist. “The summertime is really an opportunity for exposure.”

After almost 15 years, the orchestra continues to build trust with its patrons, says Anderson, even as it balances traditions with new opportunities. For the LGSO, every season promises something new.

Still Ahead This Season

LGSO’s current season promises a host of winter and spring performances.

“Our programmatic theme for this season is called ‘connections,’” says Anderson. “The selections highlight our relationships with different people and organizations within our community. The Halloween concert connected us to families with young kids; our collaboration with the Dance Factory in April connects the art forms of music and dance; our School Day concerts connect us with elementary kids, who may be hearing an orchestra for the first time; and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians we’ll feature in May connect us to the larger world of orchestral music.”

Kicking off the new year, LGSO performs a chamber concert on Jan. 24 at Immanuel Lutheran. Another chamber concert is scheduled for March at Holy Communion Episcopal, in Lake Geneva.

February promises the return of a growing favorite, the annual LGSO Gala. Set for Valentine’s Day weekend on Feb. 13, the special event includes a 1.5-hour formal concert followed by a swing band performance, dancing and a silent auction to celebrate an “Evening in Paris.” The night’s music selections feature French composers and famous Paris-related pieces. Appetizers, desserts, wine, beer and more will be served in the decorated Riviera Ballroom during the occasion.

“In following our connections theme, the ballroom will be made to look like Parisian streets and intersections,” says Childress, this year’s gala chair. “There’ll be a mime, a concertina player and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.”

The silent auction draws support from many area businesses and organizations, which donate items to be auctioned, such as hotel stays and gift cards. Proceeds support the orchestra. It’s the LGSO’s biggest fundraiser of the year and has become one of the most anticipated events for dedicated patrons.

“It’s become this community event that people look forward to every year. Attendees know they’re going to have an amazing time,” says Anderson. “It’s also for couples and patrons to enjoy a night of romance on Valentine’s weekend. How can you go wrong taking your date to an orchestra concert in the streets of Paris?”

Come spring, the orchestra is set to collaborate with Dance Factory Inc. for a concert on April 2 at Elkhorn Area High School. The show includes a performance of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 4” as part of the Beethoven Project.

On May 14 at Calvary Community Church, in Williams Bay, Wis., the season’s final performance features guest artists Rong-Yan Tang and Li-Kuo Chang, violinists of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Together, they will perform Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” The orchestra will also perform works by Rachmaninoff, Verdi and Liszt.

The season’s coming collaborations, music selections and performances are meant to inspire connections, symbolizing the many special moments that are part of the LGSO experience. After nearly six years of leading the orchestra, Anderson admits there have been many standout moments as a conductor.

“Every concert, of course, has a lot of them,” says Anderson. “When we get to make music like this, which I consider some of the best music in the world, you’re going to have special moments all the time.”

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