The Southside Philharmonic Orchestra brings classical and contemporary music to JCMO.

Dr. Patrick Clark is a busy man. He is the conductor and music director for the Jefferson City Symphony Orchestra, director of music at Central United Church of Christ, and now he’s the founder, artistic director, and conductor of Jefferson City’s newest orchestral group, the Southside Philharmonic Orchestra.

“I try to say yes to anything when somebody has a good idea,” Clark says. “Collaboration, the willingness to take a risk: these are crucial to the success of any arts organization. Every door that leads to something good is occasionally going to be a frightening one.”

Clark and Jefferson City native Gary Sanders are the driving forces behind SPO. Sanders is an accomplished pianist, one whose musicianship is integral to the group’s success. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Clark says of Sanders. “I can put any piece of music in front of Gary and he can play it. You can give him two harp parts and ask him to arrange those for piano, and he will play the piano and give you the sound of two harps.”

With that kind of talent in tow, SPO held its debut performance, a winter concert featuring works by Beethoven, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” Suite, on December 16, 2016. It didn’t take long for the orchestra’s reputation to grow. That performance led eventually to a collaboration exactly one year later with Dancers’ Alley. Performing in the orchestra pit at Miller Performing Arts Center in front of two sold-out crowds, the SPO provided live orchestral music for Dancers’ Alley’s biennial performance of “The Nutcracker.”

The response to those shows was overwhelmingly positive. Clark attributes some of that response to the thrill of hearing difficult, complex music played live. “Performing ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet live to accompanying dancers is dangerous; it’s a hard score, it’s long, and it doesn’t stop. With all of that danger in the performance, it increases the energy in the hall a great deal.”

Collaborations like the one with Dancers’ Alley are an important aspect of what SPO brings to the Jefferson City arts scene. Prior to performing with Dancers’ Alley, SPO teamed up with Vox Nova, a vocal chamber group out of Columbia, to perform a Reformation concert, featuring works by Bach and Mendelssohn, at Central United Church of Christ. This past March, the SPO partnered with MOstly Opera to perform Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at Mitchell Auditorium on the Lincoln University campus. Through these collaborations and their own separate performances, SPO is giving Jefferson City a new level of artistry, performance, and entertainment.

Even though SPO is still technically an amateur community orchestra, Clark makes sure each musician receives a stipend. Before the orchestra’s first concert, Clark raised funds to pay musicians by meeting with business owners and community leaders to explain the importance of the work SPO is doing and its mission in the community. They responded generously, but Clark knows that SPO will need more stable funding sources to achieve his ultimate goal: SPO operating as a professional orchestra.

“The quality of the playing is reflected by the effort to make sure that the musicians are taken care of and offered a stipend,” Clark says. “It makes a big difference.”

Clark knows bringing artistry and rigor to performances of select, accomplished musical pieces is not only professionally satisfying; it’s also often the best way to discover and inspire future talented musicians. “There is no way to overestimate the value of exposure to classical music for young people in Jefferson City,” Clark says. “SPO serves that function. We know that when kids hear this music some percentage of them will go home and say, ‘I would like to take music lessons.’”

Jefferson City families will have their next opportunity to hear SPO when they perform “Modernism/Rhyming Shapes” at Central United Church of Christ in Jefferson City on May 18 at 7 p.m. This progressive program will feature important works by Debussy, Stravinsky, Webern, Takemitsu, Copland, and one work by Clark. He promises an “ear-opening evening for those in attendance. These are awe-inspiring sound worlds, at once gentle and free and suddenly exciting and visceral.”

Find out more about the Southside Philharmonic Orchestra at SouthsidePhilharmonic.org.

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