Herald Times Preview of “Happily Ever After?”

Music Beat
by Peter Jacobi, H-T Columnist
Sunday, September 25, 2016

photo courtesy of Adam Schwartz, WFIU

photo courtesy of Adam Schwartz, WFIU

How about a Bloomington Symphony Orchestra concert with a new and intriguing conductor on the podium and music from the opera as content?

How about the first concert in the new music season for the always interesting NOTUS, the Indiana University Jacobs School’s Contemporary Vocal Ensemble?

How about a production by the University Gilbert & Sullivan Society of that clever duo’s delicious operetta, “Ruddigore?”

All of the above are available to you this week, a week of numerous events. If you’ve been griping about a slower-than-usual opening month for Bloomington’s classical music season, gripe no more. The schedule is heating up.


“Happily Ever After?” is the title of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra’s concert this coming Saturday in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The program is opera-centric and, for part of the evening, focuses on guests, Kim Carballo’s Reimagining Opera for Kids troupe. They’ll contribute a new opera by Lauren Bernofsky, “Rufus and Rita,” which, according to Carballo, features a “flexible libretto.”

She explains: “My favorite part is where the audience decides which direction the story should go. If they decide Rufus ate a dog biscuit, we follow one path to the end of the story. If he ate a moldy old sandwich, well, that ends up being a different, but hilarious, story.”

The remainder of the program brings us excerpts from three famous operas: Bizet’s “Carmen,” Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci,” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” In charge, on the podium, is a new artistic director for the BSO, Alejandro Gomez-Guillen, who is also a trained violinist and singer, having of late served as concertmaster of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra in Colorado.

If I were to expand on his background, I’d end up doing no more than that in the rest of this column. Let me assure you that he has amassed a long list of accomplishments. And he is here for a spell while his wife pursues doctoral studies at IU.

The BSO’s executive director, Donna Lafferty, says Gomez-Guillen was the musicians’ clear choice from among the handful of candidates invited for interviews and a conducting test with the orchestra. “He really connected with the musicians and, we thought, proved a best fit. He had just an hour with the orchestra but by the end had already started to make changes in how the string players might better do their work. We instantly heard a difference. Alejandro proved both approachable and professional, just what we need.”

The conductor says he’s “happy to be here, with a new opportunity to serve music. I’ve been listening to the orchestra during rehearsals. There is a lot of knowledge in the group, as well as energy and enthusiasm. I want to challenge them, and the Bloomington audience, with both works from the classic repertory and new compositions. And I do also want to make the concert-going experience a pleasure without a sense of the stuffy. This is a community orchestra. I want the community to feel welcome. Our first concert should do that. It’s about stories and how stories can be made relevant for listeners through music.”

If you go

To the Bloomington Symphony: Operatic music is the fare you’ll experience in this season opener. “Happily Ever After?” includes excerpts from “Carmen,” “I Pagliacci,” and “The Magic Flute,” along with excerpts from a new opera, “Rufus and Rita,” composed by Lauren Bernofsky and performed by Kim Carballo’s Reimagining Opera for Kids ensemble. The BSO plays under the guidance of its new artistic director, Alejandro Gomez-Guillen. WHEN: Saturday evening at 7:30. WHERE: Buskirk-Chumley Theater. ADMISSION: General admission $15 in advance, $18 on day of show; for students, $8 and $10; for children 18 and younger, free.