By Kelcey Norris
The Youngstown Symphony announced their first concert since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Nov. 14, the performers will honor the life of conductor Randall Craig Fleischer, who died unexpectedly this past August.
Rachel Stegeman, concertmaster of the symphony, said this concert features a smaller group of chamber musicians with one vacancy at the front.
“We didn’t talk about this, but I feel like Randy was the Youngstown Symphony. To try to invite someone to come in at this point just didn’t feel like the right timing quite yet,” Stegeman said. “We said, ‘Let’s have the musicians get together and honor Randy the way we know how, with great music that he would have loved.’ We will be a single unit, working together, and he’ll be there in spirit.”
Stegeman also works with the Wheeling Orchestra in West Virginia, the Pittsburgh Ballet Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra.
“This concert—I’m super excited about it,” Stegeman said. “Given the state of affairs for classical musicians and how everything has been for us, basically things have been on a shutdown. Some of the other orchestras I’m in have hesitantly opened the doors for concerts, getting the orchestra back together on a smaller scale, socially distanced and very safe.”
The Youngstown Symphony will perform pieces like “Corelli’s Christmas Concerto” at the Edward W. Powers Auditorium Nov. 14 at 8 p.m.
“Music is such an important part of a community’s life. We were trying to think of what we can do to help the community feel like a community again,” Stegeman said. “The Youngstown Symphony, with Randy’s passing, it’s been a time of mourning for us. We can’t all get together on a large scale, but maybe we can get together on a small scale.”
Before she started as concertmaster at the Youngstown Symphony, Stegeman won the opportunity to perform the “Tchaikovsky “Violin Concerto” with the National Symphony, conducted by Fleischer.
“I didn’t even realize it until after I was already concertmaster in Youngstown; my girlfriend was going through her attic and sent me a program from that concert, which was in 1990, a long time ago. I was just reading through it and who was the conductor but Randall Fleischer,” she said.
Stegeman encourages Youngstown community members to attend.
“We will lead this concert as a unit. It’s not about any one person; it’s about getting together to serve the community and honor the memory of our beloved conductor,” she said. “What other chance do you have to hear live music? Even if you’re not a classical music fan, these are live musicians in a beautiful place. It’s incredible music that will bring peace to your soul.”
Michael Strauss, solo violist in the symphony and professor at Youngstown State University, feels a special connection to this tribute concert. Strauss’ solo was supposed to be conducted by Fleischer last year.
“A month before my solo date I had an emergency quintuple bypass surgery on my heart, and Randy and the entire Youngstown Symphony family was really supportive of my recovery. We moved my solo date to this year. Randy and I worked on [the repertoire] beforehand, we were in close communication,” Strauss said.
The absence of his long-time friend and conductor adds even more significance to the first concert of the year.
“His death was such a shock and a personal sadness for me. My wife was a friend of Randy’s way back in college — known him for over 35 years,” Strauss said. “This concert means everything to me and I know Randy will be with us. It’s a great opportunity to play my heart for him.”