Connecting through Music: The Magic of the Rivers Symphony Orchestra

Catherine O’Neill Grace Conservatory News

Yo-Yo Ma, the renowned cellist, has said, “When we share music, we share a part of ourselves, creating connections that go beyond words.”*

This sentiment resonates powerfully for the artists in the Rivers Symphony Orchestra (RSO). Members of the ensemble speak of the joy they find in the group’s sense of connectedness, its dedication to orchestral music, and the musicians’ willingness to learn.

An ensemble of The Rivers School Conservatory, the RSO was founded in 1996 by then music director David Tierney. Christopher Memoli took the baton in Fall 2021. Maestro Memoli also directs the RSC’s Rivers Youth Orchestras program and is the director of music for the Weston Public Schools.

The RSO’s mission is to promote performance opportunities for talented adult players and advanced music students. Members represent a range of ages and backgrounds, and come together in a spirit of professionalism to offer orchestral music to the local community. This fall, for example, the RSO offered a concert at the Town Hall in Needham, MA., featuring works of Johann Strauss, Antonin Dvořák, and Jean Sibelius.

Ken Culver, concertmaster, is in his second season with the RSO. “The camaraderie within the group is fantastic,” he says. “It’s just a lively and friendly bunch of good musicians who are pulling for each other and working together to make great music. I love having the opportunity to make symphonic orchestra music, so it is a great way for me to keep my skills up and be in a community of musicians.”

Michelle Passmore, principal oboe, began her second stint with the RSO in the 2012–13 season. “But l played for the 2003–04 season when I was in high school,” she says. “So overall, this is my 13th season. What I appreciate about this orchestra is that I have been able to continue performing high-caliber music since finishing my collegiate music studies. I enjoy the multi-generational makeup of the group. it is a unique experience to have players from all different walks of life come together and make music.”

Members of the RSO may not all be professional musicians, but they strive for a professional level of musicianship. Principal flute Bruce Goody, who is also the group’s ensemble manager, has been playing with the RSO for 24 years, since 1999. “What I enjoy with the RSO that I have not experienced with other musical ensembles is the willingness of the entire orchestra to grow and improve at each rehearsal, even at our dress rehearsal,” he says.

Passmore agrees that the experience of playing with the RSO stretches her musically. “Each season with the RSO has furthered my ability to adapt to different musical leadership styles and has deepened my knowledge and understanding of composers and their works,” she says.

Then there’s the sense of community.

Her role as principal cellist “makes me feel like I am coming to my second home,” says Celeste McGinty, who has been with the RSO for three years. “Playing in the RSO is wonderful and I hope to keep playing in this orchestra for a very long time.”

—Catherine O’Neill Grace