Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Connecting with community key to RSO's new executive director

Returning to the Berks community is a sort of "homecoming" for the Reading Symphony Orchestra's new executive director, David Gross, who will join in the milestone opening night for its 105th season on Saturday. Gross, who previously served as the president and CEO of the San Antonio Symphony, is familiar with Reading and Berks County, having performed with the RSO in January 1978, under the baton of Maestro Sydney Rothstein. Gross' wife and Reading native, pianist Deborah Dundore, performed twice with the RSO.

Gross will be working alongside RSO Music Director/Conductor Andrew Constantine, who said "Gross' wealth of experience from both sides of the stage and his understanding of current trends, issues and developments in the orchestra industry will be invaluable to us."

Saturday's concert, titled "Gems, Jewels & Masterpieces," will be held at the Santander Performing Arts Center in Reading at 7:30 p.m., and will feature Elgar's introspective "Cello Concerto" with soloist Julie Albers. Also on the program will be Beethoven's dramatic "Leonore Overture No. 3" and Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 5."

In a phone interview last week, Gross said he has worked with Albers three times in the past, describing her sound on the cello as "big, warm, and beautiful." Albers is principal cellist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and an active member of the Albers String Trio and Cortona Trio.

A native of Buffalo, New York, Gross has a collective 30 years of experience in the orchestral field. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he met his wife, he served as principal timpanist with both the Grand Rapids Symphony and the Kansas City Philharmonic. He also served as the president and CEO of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and executive director of the Lansing Symphony Orchestra.

During his time in Texas, he was actively involved in all aspects of the San Antonio Symphony, including artistic planning, fundraising, and marketing. He was instrumental in its successful transition to a new performing arts center (Tobin Center) and the creation of partnerships with numerous arts organizations, including Opera San Antonio, Ballet San Antonio, and the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio.

He also led the Symphony in collaboration with the Martin Luther King Commission and the MLK Mass Choir to present an MLK Community Concert, with all proceeds donated to the MLK Scholarship Fund. He said a partnership with the Majestic Theater in San Antonio to co-present a new series of movies ("Home Alone," "Jurassic Park," and "Harry Potter") with live symphony orchestra grossed $700,000 last season. The symphony's education programs also grew in size, he added, eventually serving 45,000 students annually, a 50-percent increase over the course of three years.

Gross cited a great tradition of support for the RSO and said he looks forward to being a part of that. He also said he wants to support Music Director Andrew Constantine's mission for the orchestra and help create new partnerships and collaborations in the community.

"Finding new ways to be relevant to the community in which we live and function in is important," Gross said. "It builds a stronger arts community."

When asked what artists he would like to bring to Reading, he mentioned violinists Joshua Bell and Sarah Chang, cellist Yo Yo Ma, and pianist Emanuel Ax.

Gross said he also would like to expand education outreach and see "more contact with our musicians and students in the community."

"Students are our patrons for tomorrow," he said.

Footnote: RSO concerts for the 2017-2018 season will be held at both the Santander Performing Arts Center in Reading and the Scottish Rite Cathedral in West Reading. All concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Upcoming concerts are: November. 11, "An Evening of Fantasy" with violinist Eric Wyrick and cellist Andre Gaskins, Santander Performing Arts Center; December 31, "Nick Kendall Returns with Time for Three!" Santander Performing Arts Center; January 27, 2018, "Happy Birthday, Amadeus!" with pianist Boris Slutsky, Scottish Rite Cathedral; March 3, "Soaring Strings" with violinists Christopher Collins Lee and Eliezer Gutman, Scottish Rite Cathedral; April 14, "Glorious Gershwin," with bass-baritone Kevin Deas, pianist Simon Mulligan, and soprano Julie-Ann Whitely Green, Santander Performing Arts Center, and May 5, "Picture This!" with pianist Ilya Yakushev and artist Michele Bryne, Santander Performing Arts Center.

RSO will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses with a commemorative concert, "Bach and the Reformation," featuring the Vox Philia Chamber Choir of Berks County, on October 29 at 3 p.m. at Atonement Lutheran Church, 5 Wyomissing Boulevard, Wyomissing.

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As Friday the 13th approaches, some rather "odd" characters will make the night scene. Genesius Theatre in Reading brings a haunting creation to life with its musical production of "Young Frankenstein," based on Mel Brooks' and Gene Wilder's hysterical send-up of their classic film of the same name. Book is by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks. The show, rated PG 13, will run through October 28.

This musical re-imaging of the Frankenstein legend follows young Dr. Frankenstein, his odd and endearing helper, Igor, his gorgeous assistant, Inga, and his madcap fiancée, Elizabeth. And let's not forget that singing-dancing monster in a tuxedo! It's the story of Frederick, grandson of the infamous Victor Von Frankenstein, who inherits his family's estate in Transylvania and later brings to life a creature to rival his grandfather's monster.

The Genesius cast includes James Haggerty as Dr. Frederick K. Frankenstein, Joey Moray as the Monster, Jeffrey Flemming as Igor, Emily Rhinehart as Inga, Anita Lewis as Elizabeth Benning, Cathy Miller as Frau Blücher (horses whinny), Jon Browning as Inspector Kemp & The Hermit, Jordan Baylor as Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein, and Ben Jupina as Ziggy.

The production is directed by Genesius Artistic Director L J Fecho, with music directed by Christopher Sperat. Choreographer is Jennifer Parker Scott, conducted by David James Neel. Set design is by Brandon Kegerize, light design by Spencer Moss Fecho and L J Fecho, sound design by Albert Garcia, costume design by Cathy Miller, and hair/makeup design by Kim Siegel.

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Another Friday the 13th offering is Tape Face, described as the mime with noise, standup with no talking – drama with no acting. He'll be performing at the State Theatre in Easton at 7:30 p.m.

The New Zealand native, whose real name is Sam Wills, was seen on the 11th season of NBC's "America’s Got Talent," with his trademark tape across his mouth, black-rimmed eyes, and spiky hair. His comedic wordless performance impressed judges, one of whom was Simon Cowell who called him "a modern Charlie Chaplin." While he did not make it to the top 5, Tape Face went as far as the finals of the competition.

His performing career started as a busker (street performer), winning the Press People's Choice Award at the World Buskers Festival in 2008. Known as "The Boy with Tape on His Face," he sold out venues around the world, even picking up some more awards and nominations along the way.

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The Crowded Kitchen Players are performing "Act One," from the autobiography of Moss Hart, opening Friday and continuing through October 22 at the IceHouse, 56 River Street, Bethlehem.

Written by James Lapine and directed by Ara Barlieb, "Act One" is the inspiring tale of young Moss Hart, son of recent immigrants living in a cramped and dilapidated Bronx boarding house in the late 1920s. He quits school, works multiple low-paying, futureless jobs to support his extended family, but through sheer force of will, raw talent, and a refusal to surrender his dreams of a playwriting career, rises almost overnight from complete anonymity to the very top of the theater world.

The cast includes Ryan McNamara, Brian Wendt, David "Oz" Oswald, Trish Cipoletti, Judy Evans, Ethan Silver, Max Wetherhold, Bruce Brown, Carla Thew, Tom Harrison, Susan Burnette, Ryan Lichty, Alexandra Racines, and Stephanie Steigerwalt.

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Performing at the State Theatre in Easton on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. will be singer Linda Eder, whose diverse repertoire spans Broadway, standards, pop, country, and jazz.

The award-winning actress portrayed the tragic character, Lucy, in the Broadway musical, "Jekyll & Hyde." Her recording career launched in 1991 with her self-titled debut album, followed by 17 solo albums and 12 musical recordings.

She has performed throughout Europe and on numerous PBS television concert specials, including "Clay Aiken's Tried & True," "Hallelujah Broadway," "Linda Eder: The PBS Concert," "Best of Broadway: Broadway's Leading Ladies," "Best of Broadway: Love Songs," and "Jim Brickman plays The Disney Songbook." Her 2001 holiday concert, "Christmas Stays the Same," was broadcast on Bravo TV.

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Centenary Stage Company in Hackettstown, New Jersey, is currently performing "The Learned Ladies," Moliere's comic genius in a modern adaptation by Feyda Thomas that moves the play from the 17th century into the 20th century.

Directed by Carl Wallnau, the production will run through October 22 at the Sitnik Theater of the Lackland Performing Arts Center at Centenary University, 715 Grand Avenue, Hackettstown.

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"Gilded - Objects of Luxury" is the current collection at three sites of Historic Bethlehem Museums, through March 11, 2018.

Magnificent craftsmanship and luxury items from the historic Bethlehem vault include Bohemian gold-enameled glassware, sterling silver tableware, Mercury glass, Count Zinzendorf's crystal cuff links, handcrafted jewelry and spoons by Bethlehem-based silversmiths, metallic mirrors, and artwork mounted in gilded frames.

Also featured are locally-made books from the J. Carroll Tobias Collection with gilded pages and metal fixtures, Mercury glass from the Annie Kemerer Collection, and May Erdman's gold-accented china.

The three sites are: Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, 427 North New Street; Goundie House, 501 Main Street, and Moravian Museum, 66 West Church Street.

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The classic and unique musical, "Godspell," opens the 48th season of Act 1 DeSales University Theatre's season tonight at 8 in Schubert Theatre at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts in Center Valley. The production runs through October 22.

Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, "Godspell" presents the story of Jesus Christ and his disciples – with a musical twist. Though taught about morality through Jesus' parables, the lively and heart-warming lessons don’t last forever and Jesus is eventually betrayed by Judas and crucified. His followers are tested, but all is not lost, for the resurrection is promised.

Stephen Schwartz, composer and lyricist, began his career with "Godspell," which earned him his first two Grammy Awards.

Director of Act 1's "Godspell" is theater alumnus Andrew Kane '07. Scenic designer is Sam Roff '19, costume designer is Alex Dubeck '18, and lighting and sound designer is Kenny Parkinson '18.

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