The path less traveled: Pioneer Valley Symphony receives award for ‘adventurous programming’

Last modified: Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Playing in a symphony orchestra ought to be risky business says musical conductor Paul Phillips, who for 20 years has led the Pioneer Valley Symphony along innovative musical paths. Taking those risks is just the thing to keep the music thriving, Phillips says. Officials at ASCAP apparently agree.

ASCAP, a national organization that represents over 500,000 musicians, recently honored the symphony with an Award for Adventurous Programming, noting that the symphony’s 2013-14 season challenged audiences with its selection of less-frequently played pieces, according to Phillips. Among those selections were works by contemporary composers such as John Harbison, Peter Lieberson and William Perry.

What better way for the symphony to celebrate its 75th anniversary?

It’s truly wonderful to receive this award,” said Mandi Jo Hanneke, president of the symphony’s board of directors. “We have always been committed to exposing local audiences to a wide variety of symphonic music.”

The Pioneer Valley Symphony was one of 27 orchestras to receive the ASCAP award in June at the League of American Orchestras’ national conference in Seattle.

“ASCAP encourages orchestras at all levels and budgets to program contemporary music, which is music that has just been written by American composers in the last 20 to 30 years,” Hanneke said. “That’s what adventurous music is.”

This is the third such award for PVSO: It won, also, in 1997 and 2011.

Founded in 1939, the Pioneer Valley Symphony is one of the oldest community orchestras in the country, according to the symphony’s website. Today, the group that also features a chorus, has more than 75 musicians. It rehearses at Most Holy Redeemer Church in Hadley.

During Phillips’ tenure, he has enhanced the musical programming by including many new works by lesser-known composers, as well as lesser-known works by famous composers. His aim, he says, is to both preserve and revive the music culture, and to give performances that feel anything but old.

“When I was first interviewed by the search committee for the Pioneer Valley Symphony, it became clear this was an orchestra filled with people with a passion for playing not just the standard repertoire, but pieces that were less frequently played,” Phillips said in a phone interview.

In his work with more than 60 orchestras, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic and the Boston Academy of Music, Phillips says, he strives to maintain a balance between familiar and unfamiliar works.

“I try to find imaginative things to do with the orchestras I conduct,” Phillips said. “By introducing new pieces that are interesting to play we keep music alive, as an art form that continues to grow and evolve.”

The recent award wasn’t Phillips’ first; he has won 11 ASCAP awards for his conducting.

“The awards don’t change my life on a day-to-day basis,” Phillips said, “but they are a confirmation that what I’ve been trying to do at the Pioneer Valley Symphony and elsewhere is being recognized.”

Hanneke, who plays viola with the symphony, says the opportunity to perform music that she would not normally get a chance to play with an orchestra has been a perk of working with Phillips.

“Paul is dedicated to bringing not just traditional classical music to the Pioneer Valley. ... Our audience is getting used to seeing new composers that they haven’t heard of,” Hanneke said. “We don’t just stick to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”