UNH Represented in Portsmouth Orchestra's Upcoming Performance at Carnegie Hall

UNH Represented in Portsmouth Orchestra's Upcoming Performance at Carnegie Hall

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Janet Polasky has been in orchestras since high school. She played in college, at Carlton College, at Stanford, and during graduate school in Brussels. Now, as a member of the Portsmouth Orchestra, she’s getting ready to play Carnegie Hall.

A professor of history and women’s studies, Polasky, who plays the bassoon, is one of a handful of UNH employees who will take the hallowed stage on Nov. 29 for a one-night performance of “The Christmas Rose” featuring actress Jane Seymour, composer Tim Janis '91, and a cast of 400 performers in an evening of music, dance, and drama.

“No matter where I’ve lived, I’ve found a place to play—the advantage of being a bassoonist,” says Polasky. “It is really exciting to be heading to Carnegie Hall, but just generally wonderful to play in the orchestra.”

Built in 1891, New York City’s Carnegie Hall is considered one of the most prestigious venues in the world for both classical and popular music. Lorna Ellis, a computer scientist with UNH’s Space Science Center, is looking forward to the upcoming concert with a tinge of apprehension.

“I am excited and a bit nervous about playing in Carnegie Hall just because I have never been there and don't know what it is like,” says Ellis, who has played violin with the Portsmouth Orchestra for nine years. “I think the most exciting place I have played until now was the Portsmouth Music Hall, which is a neat venue. I also had fun singing with John Williams for Harvard's 350th anniversary when I was in college, and singing with the Baltimore Symphony in Meyerhoff Hall from 1989-1996. But I expect the experience (of playing Carnegie Hall) will be quite different from anything I've done before, and I'm looking forward to it.”

The sense of reverence that comes with playing a stage like the one at Carnegie Hall, where world premiers have been presented since 1893, is one that many of the local musicians share.

“I have not yet played in this type of venue and I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity,” says May-Win Thein, associate professor of mechanical engineering and ocean engineering. 

After looking at interior photos of Carnegie Hall’s main stage, 2,804 seats and five balconies (there are 137 steps to the top level), Thein says she is “both very excited and nervous” about the rapidly approaching gig. “When we’re at rehearsals, it doesn't feel much different, as everyone in the orchestra gives their hundred percent for all performances, regardless of how quaint or grand the environment is. There is the added pressure, however, to get everything perfectly right for a performance at Carnegie,” Thein says.

Student Amanda Morgan agrees the musicians give it their all. A music education major who joined the Portsmouth Orchestra in September, she calls the Carnegie Hall invitation “validating.”  

“It feels like I'm doing what I was meant to do--make music-- and to have the ability to do it in such a distinguished venue is more than most musicians my age could ever dream of doing,” the trombonist says. “It also is humbling to know that so many great performers have been there. Julie Andrews is one of my musical heroes. She played trombone at Carnegie Hall in 1962 in a performance she shared with Carol Burnett. To be able to say, ‘I've played trombone on the same stage that Julie Andrews did’ is something that I'll always treasure.”

Fay Rubin, project director for the Earth Systems Research Center, has only performed in local venues in New Hampshire and Maine. This is the cellist’s second year with Portsmouth Orchestra. While she says there is a bit more to preparing for the Carnegie Hall concert, it is an intensity she welcomes.

“I'm both excited and nervous about playing Carnegie Hall.  It's a revered venue, and not one that I ever expected to have the opportunity to play in,” she says. “We are still in rehearsals at this point, so I don't feel fully prepared.  But I'm confident that it will come together as we get closer to the concert date.”

Morgan shares that sentiment, saying, “I don't think it will feel fully real until I'm standing backstage ready to walk on. I can picture what it will be like; logically I know how big of a deal this is, but I don't think anyone can fully realize an accomplishment this big until you're there in that moment and experience all that you've been working for.”

Photo credit: Virgil Mehalek