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A musical exclamation mark

on November 24, 2009

Dressed in black and holding their oboes and bows, 103 girls and boys watched quietly and curiously as three barefoot girls joyously stamped their feet and danced, singing a traditional West African song. When the drums went silent, the dancers listened to the youthful – yet masterful – orchestra play.

This harmonious meeting of civilizations was the result of the first collaboration between two companies devoted to introducing young people to arts. “I’ve always admired the work of the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra,” said Jordan Simmons, artistic director of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts.

When the Berkeley-based Young People’s Symphony lost their venue for an upcoming concert, Simmons invited them to come and play at Richmond’s Civic Center auditorium. The auditorium will host all the East Bay Center’s performances until next fall, when the renovation of their permanent home on Macdonald Ave, the Winters Building, is expected to be complete.

To mark the beginning of this new musical collaboration, three East Bay Center troupes performed alongside the orchestra. The folk group Son de la Tierra strummed the first notes of Community Music Day, serenading about 120 people who came to the free concert with traditional Mexican melodies.

The baton passed to the symphony’s music director, David Ramadanoff, who conducted the world premiere of Don W. Howe’s Fanfare for the Golden State. The orchestra then segued into Antonin Dvorak’s Carnival Overture. The Czech composer’s Symphony no. 8 was accompanied by a “visual poem” created by East Bay Center film students and edited together by their teacher, Laura Zaylea. The orchestra took a break while the nine-member Richmond Jazz Collective interpreted Bill Withers and Miles Davis classics.

The pace changed when the West African Music and Dance Ensemble took to the stage. Accompanied by powerful drumming, dancers called up the spirit of Fofui, an ancestral divinity of the Ewe people.

Simmons said he hoped future collaborations would allow pupils from the two companies to participate in each others’ concerts – in one of the Winters Building’s two large performance halls.

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