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Maestro! Maestro!

CRAZY FOR CONDUCTING: Steven Errante conducts the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra during his anniversary celebration. Courtesy photo

Errante Anniversary
Sat., Feb. 11th • 8 p.m.
UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium
601 S. College Rd.
$6 students; $23 seniors; $25 GA
www.wilmingtonsymphony.org

CRAZY FOR CONDUCTING: Steven Errante conducts the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra during his anniversary celebration. Courtesy photo

Steven Errante, conductor for 25 years of the 40-year-old Wilmington Symphony Orchestra (WSO), celebrates in grand style on Saturday, February 11th at Kenan Auditorium. Titled “The Errante Anniversary,” the show will include the entire orchestra playing music, along with solo performances, including three of Errante’s own compositions.

Many fans will be in the audience, including Dr. Errante’s family—wife Sandy, daughters Emmy and Casey, his parents (by Skype)—and a dedicated board, among the houseful of devoted symphony lovers. Dr. Errante will dedicate his composition of William Blake’s “A Cradle Song” to his wife and older daughter, and the fourth movement of his own “Symphony #2” to his younger daughter.

Since choosing UNCW and Wilmington as their new home in 1986, both Errantes have poured tireless energy and innovation into the musical community of the greater Wilmington area and beyond. After the heady responsibility of parenthood achieved its natural rhythm, the Errantes founded the Wilmington Youth Orchestra and the Girl’s Choir of Wilmington. At the same time, Dr. Errante continued with the work of the WSO and teaching in UNCW’s music department.

Ten years ago, Dr. Errante and the first chairs in his symphony tightened the audition requirements and made them anonymous.“We put up a wall so only the music is heard,” he explains. “The person playing the music cannot be seen. We don’t know how old they are, the color of their skin—nothing except how they play the music.”

The results are about 60 local musicians composed of a few UNCW music and advanced high-school students, music teachers, and amateurs who have an avocation for symphony music. Freelance musicians for harp and contrabassoon are sometimes hired from Raleigh and Columbia, South Carolina. Symphony members are paid a nominal stipend WSO’s long-range fund-raising planning goal is to increase this wage.

“We have musicians driving to Myrtle Beach, Fayetteville and Salisbury to play in professional orchestras for a professional fee,” Dr. Errante explains. “We don’t want to lose these people.”

A desire for the best in musical performance started at an early age with Dr. Errante’s father playing Beethoven and opera in the family home. After viewing the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Don Giovanni,” the die was cast.

“I just went nuts,” Dr. Errante says. “I made a reel-to-reel tape of the opera and literally wore it out by playing it over and over again. I irritated my family and friends by insisting they share my excitement about it. Later I decided that conducting was the best way to communicate my love for great music to an audience.”

Dr. Errante’s junior-high teacher sensed a precocious genius emerging and asked him to take the piano music of the Christmas classic “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and arrange it for the entire orchestra. He was allowed to conduct that same piece. He was only 13 years old.

“I am forever grateful that a teacher sensed I had this ability at such a formative age,” he shares. “That is the mark of a great teacher.”

The summer before his high-school senior year, he attended the National Music Camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts. “Aaron Copland [“Appalachian Spring,” “Billy the Kid,” “Rodeo’] was there the whole week,” Dr. Errante says, “and I watched him.”

Inspired by Copland and confident in his own early mastery, Dr. Errante attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for two master’s degrees: composition and orchestra conducting. Next, he spent two years in the heart of New York City at The Juilliard School completing his doctorate in composition.

He spent four years conducting for Northern Michigan University, then Dr. Errante took a conducting position with the University of Richmond in Virginia where he met his wife, Sandy. Loving the coast, they were happy when a position opened at UNCW.

“After four years, we were in love with Wilmington,” Dr. Errante says. “We decided to drop the idea of a conductor moving up in the music world by changing jobs every four years. We focused our energies on improving the musical climate right here.”

Continuing to enhance his skills and experience keeps Dr. Errante going. “Conducting a Beethoven symphony is totally different than sitting in an armchair and listening to it,” he details. “It’s like the difference in watching a horse race and being on the horse. You really are going for that wild ride up there! It’s taken me years to figure out that it’s best to ‘sit back’—in the saddle, so to speak—and let the orchestra ‘have their head,’ with just a little nudging now and then. It’s having faith that the orchestra members will listen to each other and allow their energies to flow into one sound that all comes together.”

Dr. Errante sees at least 15 more years of conducting in order to play all the music on his “list.” He speaks of the mystery involved in the whole energizing process of just letting the music happen. “When performing music, something’s going on in the brain that is different from brain activity with other skills or tasks; it’s hard to describe,” he says. “When I play piano for the Girl’s Choir, I find myself improvising and something flows out of my hands. I’m not sure where it comes from. I’m afraid if I question it too much, it will stop.”

There is no question that the Errante Anniversary will be full of wonderful musical surprises. For more information, visit www.wilmingtonsymphony.org, or call the Kenan Auditorium Box Office at 962-3500 or toll-free at 1-800-732-3643.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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