Galveston symphony celebrates a milestone in a seaport city that loves its music
Galveston has long been a city where residents appreciate musical performances.
And this year, the island celebrates a cultural milestone as the Galveston Symphony Orchestra marks 40 years and uses the season to celebrate the community-driven group’s evolution.
The Galveston symphony emerged from a tradition of performance on the island and a group of like-minded musicians, said Sparky Koerner, the symphony’s principal trumpet player who’s been with the group for almost all of its 40 years.
“Galveston has always been a place where there has been live music,” said Koerner, who also has served as an orchestra manager and sits on the board.
The group got started in 1979 when several local musicians decided they wanted a large orchestra to play and perform with, Koerner said.
The group of about 60 features a variety of talents, including professional, student and amateur musicians, and pulls from around the county and greater Houston area, Executive Director Joanie Gill said.
“People have this image of the symphony as this stuffy thing,” Gill said. “It was much more of a thing for the people.”
In a place like Galveston, which is so conscious of its past, a symphony is another way for people to revisit history, Gill said. Much of the music was written hundreds of years ago and would have been played the same way, she said.
“It’s living history,” Gill said.
The Galveston group is especially marked by the emotion in the pieces it performs, orchestra conductor Trond Saeverud said.
Saeverud joined the symphony in 2013 after conducting in Norway, Denmark and in the United States.
When he selects music, Saeverud keeps in mind the desire of the musicians, he said.
“There is a real ability and desire to be expressive with the music and to really feel the music,” Saeverud said.
Saeverud’s preparation for a concert begins about nine months in advance when he begins researching the music, he said. Around springtime, the symphony will set the concert dates with The Grand 1894 Opera House, which serves as the official home of the symphony performances.
Then, he works to buy or rent the music the symphony will play for the season, he said. Music can get expensive, especially popular pieces.
That’s why the board works so hard to obtain grants and other forms of funding for the nonprofit organization, board Chairman Ulli Budelmann said.
Though he’s only been the chairman for about five years, Budelmann has been on the symphony board for about 30 years.
Budelmann doesn’t play any instruments himself but has always had a lifelong love of music, he said.
“The quality of the orchestra is amazing for volunteers,” Budelmann said.
For Galveston, the symphony is especially important, he said.
“Galveston has been a cultural center and there’s so much history,” Budelmann said. “Not to have one is almost unacceptable.”
Playing with a symphony is a special kind of performance and opportunity for musicians, Koerner said.
“I play all kinds of places,” Koerner said. “The symphony has its own special place.”
This season is defined by a focus on the work of female composers, Saeverud said.
He hopes this season will bring more attention to the work of the musicians, he said.
Performing with a symphony is an exciting rush, Saeverud said.
“Most of us who do it for a living, we think about how to control the adrenalin so we don’t shake too much,” Saeverud said.