TŌN, Bard’s new student orchestra

Conductor Leon Botstein
How it works

On Sunday afternoon, October 25, we heard the second performance of Leon Botstein’s newest student orchestra, TŌN.



In his introductory remarks, Botstein explained that the students, who pay no tuition and get a $24,000/year stipend, learn how to play in an orchestra, and also learn how to become like docents in a museum, that is, capable of explaining music to a layperson, all for the purpose of introducing classical music to the next generation. The explaining part no doubt has a valid future, and is one that foundations might very well support. The Mellon Foundation has stepped up with a $2 million grant that was supplemented by a Rockefeller grant.  

The second piece on the program, the Cello Concerto by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, was billed as a U.S. premiere although it was written in 1948 it was not premiered until 1957 in Moscow (with Mstislav Rostropovich as solosist) by which time the politics of music in Russia had shifted. It was an interesting piece of music, full of gravitas, nostalgia, and feelings of loss most suitable for the cello.  The only reason I can think why it has been overlooked for so long is the unliklehood of anyone but a Polish conductor being able to pronounce the composer’ first name. Botstein did pretty well, but he is accomplished in several mid-European languages and he only essayed it once.  

The orchestra is composed of 37 players all of whom have graduated with music degrees, many from conservatories.  They will be getting a heavy dose of the history of music and, through that window, a dose of political and social history that informs how and when music was played, much as referenced in the preceding paragraph.  The academic teachers are drawn from the Bard faculty. 

Lynn Meloccaro, the director of TŌN, serves a similar function for the American Symphony Orchestra.  She emphasized that the students will learn some of the practicalities of the music business, such as building an audience and fund raising. 

TN wants their students to become advocates for classical music. She said that the next class will bring the orchestra to 65.  For works demanding a full orchestra such as a Shostakovich symphony, players from the Conservatory, the faculty and the area are bought in.      

Although this is the first year of this venture, they have already bookings at Carnegie Hall the Metropolitan Museum and the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx.  Their announced plan is to do school concerts, bringing classical music to inner city youth. They already have a program laid out of mainstream favorites with a few odd pieces like the Weinberg.  

As they are housed in and around Red Hook and practice in the Fisher Center, and are connected officially to Bard, TŌN will be giving a series of performances at the Fischer Center.  The next one is Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 14 and 15 conducted by James Bagwell.  Though called students, they will be working and working hard, following a busy schedule, learning scores, practicing and performing.