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Music

Victoria Symphony returns with 'a breath of fresh air'

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Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Music director Darryl One directs the symphony during a rehearsal Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

As violinist Pat Karakas hit the first note, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra roared to life.

“A breath of fresh air,” was how Karakas described it as the full orchestra played their arrangement of “Cindy” from Kentucky Mountain Portraits after being apart for 18 months due to the pandemic.

The last concert with the full orchestra was back in February 2020, said Michelle Hall, executive director of the Victoria Symphony. With COVID-19 tightening its grip on the country, the symphony made the decision to cancel its concerts in April of last year.

The group went an entire year without a symphony concert but had two smaller concerts in April of this year: an outdoor concert consisting of small ensembles and an indoor concert at the Victoria Fine Arts Center that capped the number of people in the audience at 300 and only had 26 musicians on stage, Hall said.

Looking back at the previous year, Karakas said she felt the strain from everything closing down due to the pandemic, and the isolation that came with it caused her to lose motivation to practice her music.

“Everyone was just happy to be back together again and making music — there’s no doubt about it,” she said.

After a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra returned to the stage in September and featured an electric guitar concerto for the first time ever. Take a look at some behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage leading up to the opening event for the 2021-22 season.

Before coming to the Victoria Symphony, the Houston resident said she toured with the New York City and Houston operas.

Karakas said she joined the Victoria Symphony under the recommendation of a friend in 1993 and out of all the places she has toured, Victoria stands out because of the unity among the musicians.

“The thing I like about Victoria is that it is one of the only groups that you come in and people really take pride in their playing,” Karakas said. “It’s actually really a pleasure to have a group that actually tries to be a great ensemble.”

On Sept. 18, about 500 guests came to hear the full symphony orchestra kick off the 2021-2022 season.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

David Deering practices on his bass trombone backstage during a symphony rehearsal Sept. 16 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Violists Melissa Melendez, left, and Jonathan Griffin put on their face masks backstage Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Justin Balli tunes up his cello before the start of a performance Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Music director Darryl One peeks out at the symphony from backstage before the start of a live performance Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

The Victoria Symphony Orchestra plays during a live performance Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

“It was wonderful because you could feel the energy of people getting together and doing what they love,” Hall said. “The same I would say about the audience, you can feel the energy just when they walked in the door about how happy they were to be able to experience live symphonic music again.”

The night began as the crowd filled the music hall with applause when Music Director Darryl One took the stage. With the wave of his baton, the symphony orchestra played the national anthem with the audience standing at attention.

Along with the arrangement of “Cindy” from Kentucky Mountain Portraits, the group also played Symphony No. 9, otherwise known as “From the New World,” composed by Dvorak and a special performance by electric guitarist D. J. Sparr to showcase the symphony’s first-ever electric guitar concerto.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Electric guitarist D.J. Sparr practices alongside the orchestra during a rehearsal Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Violinist Danuta Gradney makes a note in her music sheet during a symphony rehearsal Sept. 16 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Ayren Huslig plays the harp during a symphony rehearsal Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Music director Darryl One conducts the symphony orchestra during a live performance Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

“We wanted to start our season off, for lack of a better term, with a bang,” Hall said. “We haven’t been able to perform live together for so long. We wanted to shake things up a bit and perform something new that people would not anticipate.”

With a blue 1990 Paul Reed electric guitar in hand, Sparr, of Baton Rouge, serenaded the audience with a guitar concerto to “Glacier,” a piece written by American composer Kenneth Fuchs.

Sparr came to Texas because One reached out to him after hearing a recording of him playing a guitar concerto to “Glacier.”

“I think it’s cool, I think the guitar is really ubiquitous, it’s ever present in almost all music,” Sparr said. “Almost every style of music around the world, with some exceptions of course, has electric guitar.”

The 45-year-old found his start in music at the age of 5 by standing in front of the family television set and mimicking the guitar playing he saw on TV with his fingers.

Sparr’s love for music avalanched when he began studying jazz guitar in high school and diving into composing while in college.

“It’s nice to finally be back together, it’s really like a ritual, people coming to a concert and getting dressed up in certain kinds of clothes and going out to eat,” Sparr said. “It’s just nice to share positive sound waves with a group of people.”

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Jose Flores, right, talks to Steven McMillan during a rehearsal Sept. 16 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Music director Darryl One conducts his orchestra during a rehearsal Sept. 16 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Ayren Huslig plays the harp during a rehearsal Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Violinist Pat Karakas plays her violin during a rehearsal Sept. 16 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Doyoun Kim plays his double bass alongside his section during a rehearsal Sept. 16 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Sutton puts on his bow tie in the dressing room before the start of a performance Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Violinist Danny Diaz Murzi practices during a rehearsal Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Electric guitarist D. J. Sparr plays his concerto during a live performance Sept. 18 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center

Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Music director Darryl One takes a moment to take in the sound during a rehearsal Sept. 16 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

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Duy Vu is a photojournalist for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach him at 361-574-1204.

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Staff photojournalist

I was born in Vietnam and left to settle in the United States at the age of four. A Texan by heart — I lived in Arlington for nearly two decades and graduated from The University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in journalism.

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