The milestone is Gatto's final concert as music director of the orchestra, which he founded 50 years ago. During that time, he mentored an estimated 3,000 students from the area, inspiring many to pursue musical careers. Alumni can be found in such major orchestras as the
To the players rehearsing at the
Then, pointing to his heart, he added: "Feel it here."
With a flick of the baton, his downbeat had the mostly high school-age players digging into a decidedly adult composition,
If intonation was not totally uniform, articulation not totally in sync, there was plenty of spirit as the orchestra moved through the symphony, which Gatto conducted in the ensemble's inaugural concert in 1964.
"It's a rough work," Gatto said during a rehearsal break. "But these kids can do it. They work hard."
Over the decades, the Italian-born conductor has routinely challenged his musicians with a difficult repertoire. No watered-down arrangements for this group.
"I like working with young kids, because that's where everything starts," said Gatto, who created the orchestra because "I felt I had a duty to give kids what they weren't getting in school."
"I was a crappy violin player then and sat in the last chair of the second violins, but it was great," says Lapin, 64. "I cherish those days. We had people in the orchestra who were the cream of the crop from all over the state."
After he left
"There wasn't anybody like
After relinquishing the podium, Gatto will direct that drive to such things as giving private lessons to violin and viola students. And there are ideas for books he wants to write.
"He won't be slowing down much," said
The couple plan to remain in their longtime home in
Gatto made his way to this area via
But from the age of 8, when he picked up a stick and started pretending to conduct, Gatto felt a strong pull toward the podium, too. He went on to study conducting, as well as violin, at
Gatto said his main mentor was brilliant Italian conductor
"He insisted that every note had to 'sing,' " Gatto said. "He was unbelievable. They don't have conductors like that now."
Gatto honed his baton skills conducting the
After relocating to
Ensemble size was around 80 early on, closer to 60 in recent years; musicians must audition for Gatto. Tuition from those accepted (
"We'd be in the orchestra room, and it would be beautiful outside," said
Goodman, whose father had played trumpet in the orchestra years earlier, was "looking for a group that would really challenge me" when he auditioned.
"The first rehearsal was the first time I ever got goose bumps from music," he said. "We were working on Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony. That was a very profound experience for me. It shaped my musical future, you could say."
That future included earning music degrees, playing trumpet professionally and, lately, conducting the new
"I look back to my time with Maestro Gatto for inspiration," Goodman said. "You would swear that every piece he was conducting was his favorite. I didn't think one person could love so much music. And off the podium, he was so easy to talk to."
On the podium, Gatto has long been known for his forceful personality.
Last week's rehearsal was punctuated by occasional foot-stomping, fist-clenching and, especially, ardent pleas for "piano" -- the Italian musical term for playing softly.
Goodman remembers the days when Gatto himself sounded anything but "piano."
"If you weren't playing what he felt the music deserved, he could get loud for sure," Goodman said. "And he'd be yelling at you in Italian, which was hilarious and intimidating at the same time."
Among the many young musicians who experienced Gatto's podium style up close is
"I joined the orchestra when I was 12 -- 47 years ago -- and played until I was 18," Silberschlag said. "Both my sons played in the orchestra, too. He turned out a good share of people who went on to careers in music and exposed a lot of people to high culture. He fulfilled a really important mission."
That mission was set to end with Gatto's swan song. The board of directors decided last month to shut the organization down after Saturday's concert (several alumni, including Silberschlag, are planning to participate in the performance). But the decision, greeted with lamenting posts on the orchestra's Facebook page, was reversed last week.
Coming to the rescue is the
Among those happy to hear that the organization plans to continue is
"I wanted to find a group for him with some history in it," said Bryant, who volunteers to stay after rehearsals to help with tasks like clearing the stage. "I was so impressed by this orchestra. We come a little way each week -- from
It has been worth it, too, for
"Maestro is one of the most important people I've met," Davis said. "He's [more than five] times as old as me and has more energy than I'll ever have."
That energy was evident when Gatto wrapped up last week's rehearsal with a run-through of
"You've done a great job today," the conductor said when the rehearsal ended. "Thank you very much."
As he stepped off the stage, Gatto smiled broadly.
"This keeps me young," he said. "I love music so much."
Saturday's by-invitation concert is sold out. For more information on the
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