July 10, 2020

The Topanga Symphony—An Afternoon at the Opera



The Topanga Symphony—An Afternoon at the Opera

Conductor Jerome Kessler andmembers of the Topanga Symphony takes a bow after the concert on November 17 at the Community House.

The capacity crowd of classical music lovers at the Community House settles down on a sunny Sunday afternoon as the lights dim. Long time concertmaster Rebecca Rutkowski stands and gestures to first oboist, Margreet Ray for her “A” for the winds, then for the strings.

The Topanga Symphony is now ready to perform the November concert of its 31st season.

Music Director and Conductor Jerome Kessler enters the stage. As he arrives at the podium, a baby cries in the audience, of course, but as Kessler brings his hand to his ear, the baby calms down. Kessler nods to his sound engineer, Neil Shaw, to begin recording and then turns to the 50-piece orchestra for the downbeat of the overture.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Overture to “La Forza del Destino” begins with a brass fanfare. The strings add a lovely melody, and with a mixture of calm woodwind lines and furious scary storm passages the overture shows off the depth of talent that is demonstrated by the dedicated musicians of the Topanga Symphony.

Harpist Liesl Erman adds a dramatic and thrilling element to the orchestra and it is always a special treat when the music calls for harp and Liesl joins the musicians.


The Topanga Symphony—An Afternoon at the Opera

Bass-Baritone Ronald Hedlund sings from "The Barber of Seville," by Rossini at the Topanga Symphony concert on November 17.

Then, soloist Ronald Hedlund takes the stage to sing the aria for bass and orchestra, Mozart’s “Mentre ti Lascio” from “Il Re Pastore.” The emotion in his voice allows the audience to capture the meaning of the text by simply listening to the rich fullness and sorrow brought to the music by a master of the opera. With imagination by the audience, the character he portrays comes to life complete with costumes and sets befitting the piece.

Felix Mendelssohn’s “It is Enough” from “Elijah” is in English. The words solemnly speak of the forlorn plea to take his life instead of his father’s. The cello section led by Billy Tobenkin helps to express the torment, as the beautiful voice of Ronald Hedlund sings of the pain human emotion brings.


The Topanga Symphony—An Afternoon at the Opera

Conductor Jerry Kessler with Bass-Baritone Ronald Hedlund.

The next piece from “Barber of Seville” by Rossini is a lighthearted comic aria from an “opera buffa” brilliantly executed by the soloist with many appropriately placed giggles from the audience. The soloist’s showmanship enlightened the stage in a way that can only be developed from years of experience singing these classic pieces on stage. At the time of intermission, Hedlund had already received a standing ovation and one more piece is yet to be heard from the brilliant guest soloist.

A more mature audience normally attends classical concerts. However, this concert had, in the front, a large group of very well behaved students from the Topanga Elementary School Orchestra.

At intermission they introduced themselves and offered their critique of the concert and the new playground at the Topanga Community House grounds. Zoe, 3rd grade violin, Phoenix, 4th grade cello, Honor, 2nd grade violin, Mathea 3rd grade violin, Levko, 3rd grade violin, and Helena 1st grade violin all commented on the expert opera music. “I like how he uses his voice like an instrument,” said Levko. “And I love watching our music teacher Mrs. Shaw play violin.”

Kathy Shaw is the long time strings teacher at Topanga Elementary and assistant concertmaster of the Topanga Symphony. They all agreed that the new slide from the parking lot to the playground was the best new apparatus on the wonderful new playground.

After intermission, Ronald Hedlund concluded with a baritone aria from Richard Wagner. It is a “song to the evening star,” beginning with a sweet flowing melody from the harp and a vocal performance that touches the heart with appreciation for the worldly heavens.

As the audience showed its appreciation for the exceptional performance, the artist raised his hand to his heart in his gesture of appreciation. Both sides of the stage were showing their admiration for one another.

The final piece of the afternoon, as the sun filtered through the windows of the community house and shone in on the attendees, was "Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Opus 1" by Rimsky-Korsakov. Conductor, Jerry Kessler turned to the audience to explain that Korsakov had composed this piece while he was on duty as a Naval officer, jokingly saying “that’s why it has so many high “C’s.”

Live music is so much better than just listening, especially when you know a little about the performers.

The mother-daughter first violin team of mother Bonnie Lockrem and Raquel Ravaglioli were a joy to watch.

Raquel grew up watching her mother play in the Topanga Symphony concerts and now joins her in the section. Raquel recently graduated college in violin performance and is now involved in music therapy in hospitals.

The magic and charisma of a classical concert is good for lowering your blood pressure and bringing joy to your life. But, as President Arthur Mintz clearly pointed out, free concerts are not free. Generous donations from the community are essential for the music to continue. The website is at www.topangasymphony.com for further information about how to support this orchestra and keep the Topanga Symphony playing. The next concert is scheduled for Sunday, March 9.


Keeping the financial part of maintaining a free concert series playing as effortlessly as the musicians perform, the Topanga Symphony is always searching for donors to help cover the costs of the concerts. For information about donating to the Topanga Symphony and becoming a Friend of the Topanga Symphony, please visit www.topangasymphony.com.