A! Magazine for the Arts

Cornelia Laemmli Orth

Cornelia Laemmli Orth

Symphony of the Mountains listens to a different tune

August 29, 2022

Symphony of the Mountains is headquartered in Kingsport, Tennessee, and is led by Cornelia Laemmli Orth.

Laemmli Orth has an inclusive approach to sharing music with the public. She also believes in expanding beyond what most people may think of as “traditional” symphonic music and roles. In their next concert, that exploration can be seen in their guest performer, banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck.

“Symphony of the Mountains belongs to all people of our region. Therefore, we try to have a big variety of styles of music, so that there is something for everyone’s taste.Orchestra is not just for snobbish, rich, highly educated people. We’re just all after good music. ‘Entertaining, Educating, Enriching’ are the three pillarsupon whichour organization is built. These three core elements are included in all our programs,” Laemmli Orth says.

This season includes many pieces that honor Appalachia. One of those is “The Juno Concerto” by Fleck.

“‘The Juno Concerto’ features all three elements of entertaining, educating, enriching. Needless to say,Bela Fleck is aworld-class banjoplayer whosebrilliant virtuosity will entertain everybody. By featuring the banjo as the solo instrument, we hope to also attract people who might never have heard our orchestra before. Hopefully they will like the experience and come back. As usual students and children get free admission to this concert. We are collaborating with colleges and universities to make sure they know about this program. Enriching ... I think everyone who has been to one of our concerts or comesto this one will understand.

“Bela Fleck has written a couple of concertos for banjo and orchestra. ‘The Juno Concerto’ is absolutely gorgeous. My favorite part is the melody of the second movement. In this piece Béla shows the many facets of the banjo. From virtuoso to melodic singing ... things I did notknow this instrument could do,” she says.

Other pieces during the concert include the world premiere of New York composer Seth Grosshandler’s“Festival Mountain Overture.” The piece was written for the symphony specifically to open this concert. Local composer Benjamin Dawson’s “Finch’s Theme” is also on the program. Then follows Aaron Copland’s beloved “Appalachian Spring.”

“Some people like contemporary music, others don’t. Therefore, we always try to have a balance. ‘The Juno Concerto,’ even though a contemporary work, is veryenjoyableand mesmerizingwhetherthe listener is fond of new music or not,” Laemmli Orth says.

This isn’t the first time the symphony has collaborated with artists outside the classical world. They have also worked with Charlie Daniels, the Kruger Brothers, Broadway singers, the McLain Family Band and others.

“I had the pleasure to meet with Béla Fleck when he performed at the Paramount Theater earlier this year. He is a fascinating person, and I cannot wait to make music with him. The benefit to working with the composer is certainly that there will be no doubt how he wanted something, because I can just ask him. How many times do I wish I could call Beethoven to ask about something.

“Often times when I am traveling and people find out where I live and work, Ihear ... ‘Oh ... Tennessee, why would you want to be there?’ Well, our community not only has a spectacular orchestra, but attracts world class soloists like Béla Fleck. This is only possible thanks to the support of our patrons. Please come to our concert on Sept. 24 to hear your symphony,” she says.

About the Symphony of the Mountains

The symphony began when a small group of musicians dreamed of having a civic orchestra in 1946. At the time it was known as Kingsport Symphony Orchestra. Twenty-seven musicians attended the first rehearsal, and the number quickly grew to more than 40. The first concert was free to the public, and neither the conductor nor any of the musicians were paid.

Through the decades the musical enrichment included classical concerts, entertaining pops and light musical offerings, captivating soloists and empowering opportunities for young musicians.

The Kingsport Symphony Youth Orchestra was formed in 1965 and presently consists of 80 young people representing the entire region. The mid-1980s brought the premier run-out performance in Bristol plus the beginning of the Education in the Schools Outreach program. In 1994 Musicians in the Schools began.

In 2003, Kingsport Symphony was renamed Symphony of the Mountains. The chorus merged with the Bristol Concert Choir under the name Voices of the Mountains.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the orchestra grew steadily and increased its outreach. As mandated by the board of directors, the commitment to service encompasses the entire region, without regard for state or county boundaries. In 1998 the symphony board added to the long-range plans the goal of becoming an orchestra for the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region, a service area of approximately 450,000 citizens. They mandated the orchestra to become a fully professional orchestra. Today the orchestra consists of more than 70 professional musicians and is conducted by Laemmli Orth.

About the Conductor

Prior to her engagement with Symphony of the Mountains, Laemmli Orth held the position of music director and conductor of the Oak Ridge Symphony and Choir.

She served as Associate Conductor and later Principal Guest Conductor of the Knoxville Symphony from 2002-2008 and since then has had several appearances with this orchestra.

In Europe, she was music director of the Operetta Theatre in Möriken, Switzerland, guest assistant conductor under Philippe Jordan at La Scala in Milano, Italy, worked with the Bohuslav Orchestra in the Czech Republic, and conducted many concerts with choirs and ad hoc orchestras with musicians from the Zurich Opera House and the Tonhalle Orchestra.

She received her Lehrdiplom in piano from the Conservatory at Winterthur and graduated from the Conservatory and University in Zurich with her master’s in music education. She obtained her Masters in Orchestra Conducting from Northwestern University, where she studied under Victor Yampolsky. In a variety of workshops, she studied under Larry Rachleff, Marin Alsop, Joann Falletta, Robert Spano, Kirk Trevor, Tsung Yeh, Milen Nachev and Johannes Schlaefli.

She convincingly combines the classical-romantic tradition of her old-world origins with the unique American flavor that her international background and extensive working experience in her adopted country have provided her. She is a sought-after guest conductor in the USA and in Europe.

For more information, visit www.symphonyofthemountains.org.