ASO performs Saturday: Mishler to host pianist Dichter, composer Cohn

Courtesy photo Pianist Misha Dichter will perform with the Altoona Symphony Orchestra Saturday at the Mishler Theatre, Altoona.

By Patt Keith

Two special guests join the Altoona Symphony Orchestra Saturday at the Mishler Theatre — pianist Misha Dichter and composer James Cohn.

“The season opening will be filled with festive and lively music that celebrates symphonic music at its best,” said Maestra Teresa Cheung, who serves as musical director, and leads the ASO into its 90th anniversary season. “The first half of the program is filled with show pieces by Cohn, Berlioz, and Rimsky Korsakov that highlights our orchestra, and the second half of the program will feature pianist Misha Dichter. There will be a special encore at the end of the first half for our audience as a special treat.”

Cohn of New York graduated with two degrees in composition from the Juilliard School of Music in NYC under principal instructor Bernard Wagenaar. He has written solo, chamber, choral and orchestral works including 4 string quartets, 5 piano sonatas and symphonies. He has been recognized internationally with the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Prize for his “Symphony No. 2,” an A.I.D.E.M. prize for his “Symphony No. 4,” and his opera “The Fall of the City” received an Ohio University Opera Award. In addition to many performances of his choral and chamber music, his compositions have been commissioned worldwide for television and cinema.

“James has just turned 90 this year and he will be celebrating his birthday along with ASO’s,” Cheung said. “Homage” is a work that James wrote in honor of his dear friend. The work has a big surprise included in the work, and it is a very fitting tribute to our season long celebration. I am sorry to have to stop short in telling everyone what it is because it truly needs to be experienced first hand. I guess the audience will just have to wait for the surprise!”

In addition to attending the concert, Cohn — who is still composing — will generously donate half the proceeds of his CDs sold at the concert to the ASO.

“It is always a great honor to have a living composer to attend the concert featuring their music. Jim and his wife Eileen are dear friends and they have been very giving with their time and support,” Cheung said. “They are true supporters for classical music and the arts and we are so lucky to have them with us! In the past we have had other composers joining us. The last was only this past season, with another American composer, George Tsontakis, in our midst.”

After intermission, the symphony will perform Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise to prepare the audience for the highlight of the evening — celebrated pianist Misha Dichter will join the ASO on Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.”

“A rhapsody is a musical work that is known for its virtuosity,” Cheung explained. “And for this particular rhapsody, it is also known to be one of the most beloved by the audience because of its beauty. The theme in “Variation No. 18” is famously used in the movie “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour. “It is a work that truly reflects its composer, who was known to instill both virtuosity and lyricism in his music. Misha will no doubt be bringing us a fantastic performance on this monumental masterwork.”

Staff writer Patt Keith can be reached at 949-7030.

If you go

What: Altoona Symphony Orchestra season opener with guest pianist Misha Dichter and composer James Cohn

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Mishler Theatre, Altoona

Tickets: $12 to $32