There’s a story behind the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert, to be performed in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater a week from today.

I’m writing ahead to let the story sink in and permit you to find a spot on your schedule to visit with your community orchestra, the BSO, stocked with fine musicians who are your neighbors and spend their time preparing programs to share with you, including next Sunday’s.

This BSO story begins in 2012, October of that year to be more precise. A couple named Ivonne and Richard Vanderbilt had lived for years in their home on the Jersey Shore, where they could enjoy one of their passions: boating. Richard was a civilian mechanical engineer in communications and testing for the U.S. Army at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

He had another unquenchable love: for classical music and jazz, expressed in his collection of 10,000 recordings, with which he spent countless hours, not just playing them but finding different performances of a same selected piece and carefully, minutely comparing, analyzing the differences and joyfully pronouncing preferences. Richard’s enthusiasm for music, fed also through frequent attendance at concerts, came to be shared eagerly by Ivonne.

But five years ago this month, Hurricane Sandy struck the Jersey Shore and destroyed their home, including that extensive and highly loved record collection. The Vanderbilts decided to move to Bloomington and continued to enjoy music here. In May of last year, Richard Vanderbilt passed away at age 87.

Devoted wife Ivonne recalls the hours he would listen to his music. “When one of his favorite pieces came on the radio,” she says, “Richard could instantly recognize the performers. Especially with pianists. He was so familiar with their sound and how they approached the music, it was obvious to him who was playing.”

Ivonne decided to find a way of telling Richard’s story, not by memorializing him but by showing others how important music was to him and how much it enriched his life. In exploring a way, she drew in Lenore Hatfield, a tennis partner and founder of Bloomington’s Camerata Orchestra, a still much-missed ensemble.

Here Donna Lafferty, executive director of the Bloomington Symphony, picks up the story: “Since the Camerata was no longer performing, Lenore suggested Ivonne contact the BSO to see what we could do. Ivonne called. I answered, and we arranged to meet and talk about this project. Ivonne, Alejandro (the BSO’s artistic director Alejandro Gomez Guillen), and I have met at least half a dozen times since then.

“She talked about her husband’s favorite composers, musicians and pieces. Richard was especially fond of 20th century music — primarily classical, but also jazz. Yvonne says he would collect every recording he could find of a particular piece, then use what she called his ‘engineer’s brain’ to analyze/compare each performance. Once You Tube became an option, he’d also search for more performances there. Ivonne remembers him sitting for hours, watching/listening to the same piece over and over and over again, analyzing the nuances of each performance and loving every minute of it. She feels his analytical nature rewarded him with a deeper understanding of music than many people ever achieve. And she says his love of music rubbed off on her. She appreciates it more now, and understands it, because he took the time to explain why he loved the pieces he did.”

Maestro Gomez Guillen asked for the pieces Vanderbilt especially loved. “There were a lot of them,” says Lafferty, “but we were able to narrow it down to a good sampling from his top ten. Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ combines two of his great loves: piano pieces and the influence of jazz on classical composition. Debussy’s ‘Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun’ was another favorite, but the piece we kept coming back to in our discussions was Ravel’s ‘La Valse.’

“From what I understand,” Lafferty continues, “this was Richard’s favorite piece. Now that we’ve been working on it, I can see why. It is amazing, and scary… and …wow! Finally, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is Ivonne’s favorite, so Alejandro convinced her to allow us to play it for her, too. Alejandro added Debussy’s ‘Fetes’ in place of an overture. It’s lighthearted enough to counterbalance much of the intensity of the music that follows.”

Guest soloist for Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” will be pianist Sung-Mi Im, a recent addition to the faculty of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, whose focus there is the performance of chamber music.

Lafferty says, “I get teary-eyed when I think of this whole thing. I really wish I had gotten to meet Richard, because he sounds like a very special man. But, well, it is what it is. We’re all determined to make this a wonderful, memorable performance in his honor, and to make Ivonne happy. She’s invited many of her friends and family, plus Richard’s relatives, of course.”

I believe I did not meet Richard Vanderbilt but hope to become acquainted with him through this interesting concert, titled “His Favorite Things,” a “Celebration of One Man’s Lifelong Love Affair with Music.” *

Contact Peter Jacobi at

If you go

What and Who: “His Favorite Things,” a program given by the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra to open its new season. Works of Gershwin, Debussy, Ravel, and Barber comprise the fare, chosen from favorites of the late Richard Vanderbilt, a zealot of music. The BSO’s artistic director Alejandro Gomez Guillen conducts. IU faculty pianist Sung-Mi Im solos in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8.

Where: Buskirk-Chumley Theater, 114 East Kirkwood.

Admission: Tickets available at the Buskirk-Chumley box office. General admission, $15 in advance; $18 on day of performance. Students (with ID), $8 in advance; $10 on day of performance. Children 18 and under, free (but ticket required).