WATERVILLE — A most pleasurable chapter of Jonathan Hallstrom’s life is about to come to a close.

After 28 years conducting the Colby Symphony Orchestra, Hallstrom will lay down his baton after his final concert March 10.

“I think this is an incredible group of people and I couldn’t be prouder to have been able to do this for 28 years,” Hallstrom said.

Hallstrom, 57, of Freeport, will continue to compose, as well as teach music theory, composition, history and computer music at Colby, where he is chairman of the music department.

This spring, the college plans to name a new conductor, who also will teach violin, according to Hallstrom, who says the orchestra and chorus will remain strong.

“I think the important thing to get across to the community is that this is a really important ensemble to the college and our commitment to the community isn’t going to change a bit.”

Hallstrom started at Colby in the 1984, thinking he would stay about three years, but soon grew to love the college and his work there, which eventually would involve computer music and directing the multimedia studio.

He came to Colby with a doctorate in composition and a master’s of fine arts in conducting, both from University of Iowa; a post-doctoral degree from Stanford University; and a bachelor’s in music from Oregon State University.

“There were many fewer students in the orchestra when I first came here,” he said. “We had three students in the violin section and now there are 17.”

The orchestra, which is made up of professionals, community members and students, initially relied heavily on paid professionals.

“We’ve almost completely done away with that at this point,” Hallstrom said. “There are professional players who are also teachers at Colby. The paid members of the orchestra are almost all music teachers at Colby, and we have many more students now.”

The orchestra, typically numbering 50 to 55 members, performs four times a year — twice during the fall semester and twice in the spring.

Sitting Wednesday in Lorimer Chapel where the orchestra performs, Hallstrom said he will miss the musicians.

“After a number of years, a lot of these people, particularly the non-student members, are almost like family. And over the course of their four years here, I really get to know these students. It’s tough. I’ve had some great kids and I’ve been so sorry to send them off.”

But many have stayed in touch with Hallstrom over the years.

“I get wedding invitations occasionally and I have gone to a couple of them,” he said. “When I first came here, I had a student in the violin section named John Webel. He graduated in ’86 or ’87. His son is a music major at Colby now — he is a singer. To see his son in classes is sobering in some ways.”

Claire Herbig, a Colby junior who plays principal viola in the orchestra, said Hallstrom is an amazing conductor whose passion for music is always evident while he is conducting.

“He will be greatly missed at rehearsals,” said, Herbig, 21, a chemistry and history major. “He is a pure delight to see every Monday night, equipped with a baton, a positive attitude and enthusiasm to create music.”

Steve Witkin, principal cellist, has played under Hallstrom for nearly 25 years. The Waterville opthalmologist said he considers Hallstrom a close friend and will miss working with him.

“He is a very talented composer,” Witkin said. “I have been privileged to have performed several of his works, including a beautiful piece for cello and orchestra that he composed for me several years ago.”

Witkin said that, despite the changes in the orchestra’s makeup with seniors graduating, new students coming in, changes in professionals and limited rehearsal time, Hallstrom manages to consistently deliver first-rate performances.

At his final concert with the orchestra March 10 at Lorimer, Hallstrom will conduct two of his favorite pieces, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 35; and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1.

Seniors Jesse Goldman, a pre-med student, and Charlotte Veazie, a biology major, will perform the first and second movements, respectively, of the Tchaikovsky piece.

The Brahms symphony is the very first piece Hallstrom conducted professionally in 1976, at age 22, when he was at Oregon State University majoring in music and studying privately.

“It was one of those serendipitous situations where my teacher got sick and they asked me to do the conducting,” he said. “So, it’s kind of a deja vu or da capo (musical term meaning back to the beginning), and also, I do it with mixed emotions.”

The Colby Symphony, he said, is an amazing group of which he is very proud.

“In those 28 years, the orchestra has never let me down in a concert — never in 28 years.”

He recalled having a student who started conducting with him and got to be quite accomplished, so he gave her a chance to conduct the orchestra in a concert. Her name was Vickie Hayes.

“She conducted ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and the principal clarinetist — the piece starts with a big clarinet solo — had problems with his instrument. When she gave the downbeat, nothing happened. She just sort of made a cut-off gesture and said, ‘We’ll start on measure three,’ and off they went. I was so proud that she learned her job so well that she could do that. When something like that happens, you feel you’ve done your job right. And I got an invitation to her wedding.”

Hallstrom is not going to give it up conducting completely. He and some friends plan to get together, create an ensemble and play contemporary music, which he will conduct. He also plans to play more jazz guitar, which he took up about three years ago.

“And my son is 8 — Alex — and he’s studying the violin, so I’m working on another generation,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]



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