Two Decades of Dackow

From Chariots to Polkas
By Aura Hill

Sandra Dackow Sandra Dackow “It has been a great pleasure watching it evolve,” said Sandra Dackow, who has just celebrated her 20th year as conductor of Hershey Symphony Orchestra [HSO]. “I am here by virtue of the good graces and good will of the members of the orchestra,” Dackow said, commending the spirit of teamwork and pursuit of excellence that keeps the group moving forward.

The fruits of their drive and work ethic will be evident when HSO presents “Love is in the Air” Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. in the Hershey Theatre. The evening’s program includes Overture to La Belle Helene by Jacques Offenbach, and Variations on a Theme by Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff, featuring Shelly Moorman-Stahlman on piano. Moorman- Stahlman is a professor of music at Lebanon Valley College and a frequent recitalist throughout the Midwest and the East Coast. The program’s final offering is Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 “Romantic.”

“Hanson is the consummate American composer even though he is not a household name,” said Dackow. “He is a Neo-Romantic composer of the mid 20th century who continued to write symphonies in the grand fashion that touches the heart. What could be a more special way to celebrate the Holiday of Love than by attending the Symphony together?”

When it comes to putting together music for a season of concerts, Dackow says there are different constituencies who want to be heard.

“I have to have input on the creative season; there are factors below the waterline to consider like the intervals between our concerts–like do we have the time and resources to play it. We have to sound good,” Dackow said.

She also considers the need for the audience to have a good experience. To this end, many, like “Love is in the Air,” are thematic rather than generic. She recalls a concert honoring service providers and first responders.

“It featured Hershey Fire Company in turnout gear playing fire bells for the ‘Fire Bell Polka.’ Their families were down front having a great time. We said thanks the whole night in a varied program that offered opera and some Stravinsky,” Dackow said.

Another HSO concert had a sports theme with a prize for the largest team in attendance.

“We told them to wear their colors. I wore an umpire’s uniform and came in with Cocoa the Bear,” Dackow said.

Music for that concert included “Chariots of Fire” and Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, known to some as the soundtrack for the bicycle race in the film “Breaking Away.”

“First-time or reluctant listeners often feel like they are at a foreign film festival. I want to give them entry points to help them enjoy their experience,” she said. “An orchestra should do what it does best – play great music tooled to be as inviting as it can be. Nobody doesn’t like this music if they have a good entry.”

The season must have payoffs for the musicians as well.

“I get wish lists from the players,” she said.

She also tries to recognize local talent by showcasing soloists from the immediate community or featuring professional players.

“The orchestra benefits from playing with professionals. It’s how we stay artistically healthy,” she said, adding they had enjoyed the collaboration with the Three Tenors last two seasons.

“As a symphony, HSO raises the quality of life in Hershey in a way that is stunning considering we get almost nothing in state or federal support. We are supported by our ticket patrons and private donations. We take that money and like alchemists spin it into something that is very valuable.”

She says nothing makes them happier than to greet those who didn’t think they’d like the music but enjoyed the concert and plan to come again.

In her 20 years as conductor, the orchestra has grown larger partially from the infusion of talented young people from school orchestras, Festival Strings, an HSO program for middle school students, and accomplished players from Penn State Milton Hershey Medical Center.

“The orchestra and I have worked as a team long enough that there is an economy of skill in the way we approach the work; expectations are met differently. I am so pleased and proud that they rise to that level. I can’t take credit for that. That comes from them. I have been guest conductor for professional orchestras without the work ethic or sense of community of HSO. You can’t put a price tag on that,” Dackow said.

Tickets are available at Hershey Theatre Box Office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – adults $18, seniors $15, children 12+, $10.

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