Red Bank, NJ - The Monmouth Symphony Orchestra led by Conductor Lucian Rinando welcomed spring with its third concert of its 61st Anniversary Season Sunday, March 28 at the Count Basie Theatre.

The featured artist was Nicholas Gatto on the English horn and the oboe. For those unfamiliar (as I was) the English horn is a slim, keyed wind instrument with a rich, mellow sound and a wide range of pitch.

The program opened with the Overture to "Mignon" (1866) an opera in 3 acts composed by Ambroise Thomas. (1811-1896.) It is a story of a young girl kidnapped from her father and eventually joyfully reunited.  The music is melodic and rhythmic, dance like. The violins sounded like birds.

Each passage created a different feeling.

Composer Ambroise Thomas was the son of two music teachers. At ten he was an exceptional pianist and violinist. At seventeen his composing ability won him the coveted Grand Prix de Rome in 1832 which allowed him to study for the next three years. He recognized the importance of melody and lyricism which influenced his compositions the rest of his life.

Next on the program was Concertino in A flat Major, Op. 34 for English horn, 1947, composed by Ermanno Wolf Ferrari. It was scored for solo English horn and an orchestra of strings with two French horns. There is constant interplay between the horn and the orchestra as of each was trying to interrupt the other in conversation. The mood is light, comical and playful.

Composer Ermanno Wolf Ferrari 1876-1948 was born in Venice. His German father copied old music manuscripts and his Italian mother was a concert pianist. He learned the language, culture and music of both but took on an Italian first and last name.  His music was popular until World War I. He completed the 34 Concertino a few months before his death in Venice.

The program ended with Ludwig Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 (Eroica, the Heroic Symphony) in E flat Major, OP. 55. With the first two measures, the music is familiar.  We can sing the melodic phrase that climbs the scale. One might call it "variations on a theme."

By 1802 Beethoven and his friends knew he was going deaf. He wrote of his grief, the agony of music yet to be written, in "Heiligenstadt Testament," testimony addressed to his brothers. However, unable to express himself fully with words, he began to write the Eroica, that expressed his feelings of strife and victory in musical language.

The Eroica, the longest symphony written at that time taxed the musicians' technical abilities­­a third French horn was added. The music was so different and intense, it was not understood or accepted  by the public for ten years, until Beethoven's death in 1827 after the publication of the Heiligenstadt Testament that revealed the composer's anguish. Then the audience understood the Eroica was the musical expression of Beethoven's personal struggle with his deafness and his intense desire to write music.

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Nicholas Gatto

Thirty-one-year old horn and oboist Nicholas Gatto grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey. His parents were avid music lovers; music constantly filled their house. An older brother played the clarinet and an older sister played the flute. Nicholas says he believes his desire to learn an instrument stemmed from watching them.  He remembers his first experience with classical music, Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" on an 8-track tape.

At nine years old, instead of the flute, clarinet or trumpet, he chose to play the oboe with the school band. He wanted to be different and the oboe wasn't very big for him. He had no idea of what it sounded like.

Fortunately, the woman who had given his sister private flute lessons was also an oboist. In fact, Pat Hunt was the principal oboist of the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra for several years.

Nicholas had also taught himself to play the piano until high school when he took formal lessons. In college he occasionally accompanied people. Now he works at his alma mater, The College of New Jersey, as a staff piano accompanist, working mainly with voice majors.  He finds it very rewarding.

"It opened me to a musical realm I had never experienced playing oboe--the genre of vocal music, art songs, opera arias, etc.

In high school Nicholas decided to be a professional musician. He had played in several Region II and All-State  Orchestras/Wind Ensembles. The rehearsals lasted six to eight hours. For him, however, the time flew because he enjoyed it so much.

In 1998 he won the College of New Jersey Orchestra Concerto Competition and performed the Concerto for Oboe, K. 314 by Mozart in New Jersey and on tour throughout England. He  graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education from the College of New Jersey in 2000.

Upon recommendation from his teacher, Corinna Weidmer, he attended Carnegie Mellon University where he received his Masters Degree in Music Performance in 2002.  His teacher there was Cynthia DeAlmeida, the principal oboist of the Pittsburgh Symphony.  He credits her for the most influence on his oboe playing in the two years that he studied with her.

"Not only is she a phenomenal oboist, but her incredible work ethic and tireless attention to detail--from the practicing to the reed making-- gave me the full example of how hard I had to work if I wanted to be as good an oboist as I wanted to be. I have yet to reach my goal. Even now, eight years after finishing my formal education, I still have the desire to improve."

After his graduate studies in oboe, Nicholas studied the organ, took private lessons and now is the organist at St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in East Brunswick. "I always felt that my faith was an important aspect of my life. Being a church organist has given me the opportunity to express that faith musically."

Nicholas uses music as a means to express feelings. "I want to move people emotionally. Experiencing certain pieces of music, whether as an audience member or as a performer, can be an incredible adrenaline rush. Music is not just about playing notes. Music can have a very powerful effect on people's lives.  My church organ job comes to mind. Once I started playing in church, I became aware of how music can reach deep into the souls of people, and be a source of comfort, joy, strength, rejuvenation. If I can provide those feelings for my audience, I feel music can make the world a better place."

The audience obviously agreed. They expressed their appreciation with a standing ovation.