By George Basler
Over the course of several decades, the late Fritz and Marianne Wallenberg worked tirelessly to bring classical music to the Southern Tier. On Saturday (Jan. 28), the community will be able to honor their vision and dedication at a special 7:30 p.m. concert at the Broome County Forum Theatre.
Billed as the Wallenberg Festival, the concert will feature performances by Broome County’s three classical music orchestras — the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Binghamton Community Orchestra, and the Binghamton Youth Symphony — preceded by a 6:30 p.m. talk by Katherine Rabinowitz, the Wallenbergs’ daughter.
“The legacy of music making in this community is extraordinary. The Wallenberg Festival is conceived as a celebration of that tradition,” said Paul Cienniwa, the Philharmonic’s executive director, who spearheaded organization of the festival. It was originally scheduled for last year but was put on hold because of the omicron COVID variant.
In 1949, after Fritz Wallenberg came to Binghamton to work as an engineer, he and his wife started a chamber orchestra. Six years later, they co-founded the Binghamton Symphony with Fritz, a noted cellist, as director and conductor. The symphony merged with BC Pops Orchestra in 1996 to form the Binghamton Philharmonic.
Fritz (1901-2001) conducted the symphony for more than 20 years until his retirement in 1976. Marianne (1913-2011) was its assistant concertmaster and a beloved violin teacher for dozens of students, many of whom went on to become professional musicians.
The community owes a debt of gratitude to the couple, so “it’s great for the family’s name to come back again,” said Barry Peters, music director and conductor of the Binghamton Youth Symphony.
Besides honoring the Wallenbergs, the festival concert will give the three orchestras the opportunity to hear each other and give audiences the chance to see all three ensembles perform on the same stage, Cienniwa said. “It’s very uncommon to have three orchestras in a community, and that’s something we need to celebrate,” he noted.
The three orchestras will play separate programs. The Philharmonic and Youth Symphony will then close the concert with a joint performance. Peters; Evan Meccarello, music director of the Community Orchestra, and Daniel Hege, music director of the Philharmonic, have programmed works by Brahms, Dvorak, Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.
About 180 musicians will perform during the concert, with more than 100 on the stage for the joint finale. “It’s going to be quite a nice scene that will elevate everyone,” Cienniwa said. Philharmonic musicians will have the opportunity to mentor younger musicians, and the younger musicians will have the chance to play alongside professionals, he said, adding: “We hope they will come out with a spring in their step.”
In keeping with the concert’s purpose, tickets prices are being kept low, Cienniwa said. Some adult tickets can be purchased for as little as $10, and children are free.
Recording the legacy
The Philharmonic is also working to preserve the Wallenbergs’ legacy by working with Newclear Studios of Vestal to digitize some 100 reel-to-reel tape recordings of the concerts conducted by Fritz Wallenberg during his career. The recordings come with documentation, including printed programs, newspaper articles and reviews.
The work is about 85 percent complete, Cienniwa said. When finished, the recordings will be available on the Philharmonic’s website free of charge. For more information or make a donation to help fund the effort, contact Cienniwa at 607-723-3931, ext. 4 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO: The Wallenberg Festival concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 28) at the Broome County Forum Theatre, 236 Washington St., Binghamton. Tickets are $10, $25 or $35 (children under 17, free). Call the Philharmonic box office at 607-723-3931 ext. 1, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, or purchase online at binghamtonphilharmonic.org.