Mark Robinson conducts a rehearsal of "The Messiah" last Thursday at Homer High School. This weekend's performances in Kenai and Homer will be Robinson's last with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra.
Photo by Michael Armstrong
This has been a landmark year for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. It is the organization's 25th anniversary year. In the final concert of 2007, KPO in partnership with the Kenai Peninsula Community Chorus and Homer High School choir, will present G.F. Handel's "Messiah" in its entirety.
This enormous undertaking will also be the last for KPO under the baton of conductor and artistic director Mark Robinson.
Robinson has conducted KPO since 1989. His tenure with the organization is a complete journey with this opportunity to conduct the "Messiah" again.
"There's a ton of mixed emotion. I am, on one hand, tremendously excited about the performance itself. ... This is kind of a complete circle for me, personally, because the first thing I ever did with the orchestra was when I was asked to do local Homer community sing, sort of informal, with just a handful of string players. It was audience sing along, no choir onstage. ... That was the first thing I did with this orchestra or any other for that matter," Robinson said.
"So to see this production, which is the full 'Messiah,' 220 singers, 45-piece orchestra a very accomplished orchestra it's very different than it was back in 1989," Robinson said.
The orchestra and the chorus will take the stage in Kenai and Homer. Guest soloists traveling from Anchorage are Anastasia Jamieson, soprano, Marlene Bateman, alto, Andrew Sweeney, tenor, and Todd Jackson, bass, who will accompany the full choir.
For Robinson, the journey has been about the music, but more than that, it has been about the people he has worked with along the way.
"The real highlight for me, honestly, is the association with the tremendous people in this organization and on this peninsula, the people I've gotten to know through this, the people I've gotten to work with. I'd have to highlight that I've gotten to work with some really outstanding musicians, both local and guest artists. It's really phenomenal," Robinson said.
According to those musicians, the feeling is mutual.
Nancy Chambers is a violinist with KPO. She was concert mistress for a number of years, and has watched Robinson grow and develop from the beginning of his directorship.
"I was in the orchestra when he first came to conduct. At that time, he was a choral conductor, and he didn't know much about orchestra. He learned real quick. There were times we had to remind him, 'Oh, this is true about strings,' or 'This is true about winds.' Now he's leaving, now that we've got him trained," Chambers said with a laugh.
Maria Allison has been with KPO longer than Robinson, as a pianist and string player. She has really enjoyed watching him develop as an orchestral conductor, and as a leader for the organization. Allison appreciates his humility, and his ability to work with all kinds of personalities and different levels of experience.
"He tries to get the most music out of us. He challenges. He's a good leader," Allison said. "He knows how music should sound. He helps us get the best sound out of the music."
According to Chambers, Robinson's leadership style is largely easy-going.
"I will miss his sense of humor. We're always playing some joke on him, and he just laughs it off and keeps going," Chambers said.
Both musicians believe in Robinson's honest concern for the advancement of the orchestra and the individual musicians.
"He's not going to put his pride over the good of the group," Allison said of Robinson, and his lack of egocentricity.
KPO and the Community Chorus are all-volunteer organizations, and Robinson appreciates the contributions the individuals make to participate.
"He puts the people first, before the show. Even though the show must go on, he does put the people first," Chambers said.
Robinson announced his decision to retire as conductor last January. He says the board of directors are planning to utilize a number of guest conductors over the next season or two. Some of the guest conductors will be from outside the peninsula, some will be local.
"It'll also give some folks who aren't necessarily interested in becoming artistic director, but have always wanted to conduct orchestra very capable conductors it'll be a good experience for them. I think it will be kind of fun," Robinson said.
Though Robinson feels he will leave the orchestra in capable hands, it is still with mixed feelings that he will hang up his baton this weekend.
"There's also a great deal of emotion about it. I'm going to be stepping away from something that's been such a big part of my life, so meaningful in my life and in my family's life ... it's been such a huge part of our family experience for well, 18 years. It's not going to be totally easy to do," Robinson said.
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