SARANAC — The "Vivaldi Project" is violinist Austin Hartman's baby.His idea was to assemble local musicians in a chamber orchestra. Task them with the "Four Seasons." Give a little performance."He put it into my hands to organize the players," said Angela Brown of Hill and Hollow Music. "I wasn't quite sure what to do. I called Carl Kokes, Angie LaMariana and Beth Gorevic."The string teachers spread the word about the Vivaldi Project. Between 40 and 50 musicians attended the first rehearsal last October at the Saranac Town Hall."Everyone showed up at the first rehearsal," Brown said. "No one knew what to expect.""Summer" was the first movement Hartman assigned."Austin was at the helm. He said, 'Let's read through this movement.' I started to cry. It sounded so good. Austin started to cry. Biava had never expected to find a high level of musicianship in our community. It blew them away. It was really very, very moving."Hartman had bowing and phrasing suggestions. He worked on dynamics. At the end, "Summer" was played through again. The paradigm was set. Next was "Autumn." At Biava's November residency, the orchestra worked through "Autumn" and reviewed "Summer.""It's so touching to see these old and young and middle-aged together, sawing away in unison and working so hard."
In February, the orchestra learned the next movement. On April 18, "Winter" and "Spring" will be reprieved and reviewed."Austin saved the easiest movement until last. They are going to perform all four movements. That's how good they are. They all worked so hard. Each person came prepared and eager. They all told us this experience means so much to them. To work together in the orchestra but to get instruction in musicianship and technique."Students had to perform at New York State School Musical Association Level 5 or higher to be part of the project."The Biava Quartet is working in-depth with Peru and Plattsburgh to keep their string programs going. The Vivaldi Project is so valuable for a lot of home-schooled kids in the North Country. They don't have an opportunity to play in an event, not even a band. Kids from Mooers, who go to Northern Adirondack, don't have a string program there. These kids are delighted to have a chance to play."As do retirees and professionals including Anna Battigelli, Ara Asadourian, Dr. Victor Ludewig and Julie LeBerge from Hemmingford."These guys are really glad to play. We lost a community orchestra a decade ago."The most seasoned musician, at 93, is LaMariana, Plattsburgh State professor emeritus."He's the elderly statesman. The Biava Quartet adore him. He's telling us how to make it better. He graciously agreed to play the viola, so we have a balanced section. You need that middle voice."
Octogenarians Charlotte Mitchell plays harpsichord and her husband, Alexander, is a violist.Hill and Hollow co-founder J. Kellum Smith will recite in Italian and English, Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" poetry.Kokes is impressed with the quartet and the orchestra."It is an unbelievable experience," he said. "I have three or four students who are violin students, who are playing in the ensemble. The growth they are gaining by the interaction with Austin, the group and all the first-chairs (violinist Hyunsu Ko, violist Mary Person and cellist Jason Calloway), who are Biava Quartet members, is exciting to see."Kokes, co-concert master, is having a blast."It's a learning experience for me. I haven't played that literature in decades. They're so open to ideas and asking the string orchestra if you have any comments, say them. It's happened more often than not."Jeris French, principal second violin chair and Crown Point orchestra director, has several students participating."The growth and musical training we are getting from this experience, you couldn't buy it anywhere," Kokes said."The various levels of music education, professionals and students, that mix makes for an unknown quantity of quality. Everyone is so engrossed in this whole thing. We're excited," he said.
"I think this will be a sock dropper and teeth dropper. Hill and Hollow should be commended for bringing the Biava Quartet, a top-shelf group in itself. To have the experience playing right with them and sitting next to them, it's incredible."