Bondo Wyszpolski

Maestro Barry Brisk conducts his last concert for Beach Cities Symphony

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Maestro Barry Brisk. Photo courtesy of Peter Landecker

A musical flourish, and a fond farewell

Barry Brisk of the Beach Cities Symphony sets down his baton

by Bondo Wyszpolski

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Eventually the train comes to the station, and after 25 years and 100 concerts Maestro Barry Brisk of the Beach Cities Symphony is handing in his baton and stepping down. He’s conducted works by over 80 different composers, a dozen or so of them still living, and a few of his own compositions as well. The orchestra itself begins its 70th season in the fall, and it will be a four-season series as usual but with a different conductor for each concert. One of them, presumably, will try and fill the shoes of Maestro Brisk, but that’s not going to be easy. Brisk has been beloved by many of his musicians and yet it’s not just them who are sorry to see him go, but also the hundreds if not thousands of audience members who’ve attended his performances since 1994. The last of these takes place Friday at 8 p.m. There will also be a farewell party for the conductor at 6 p.m. and everyone’s invited. Details below.
We asked Barry Brisk to reflect back on his years with the orchestra, and to tell us what he’s looking forward to in the years ahead.

Easy Reader: When you realize that this is your last concert here as Maestro Brisk of the Beach Cities Symphony, what immediately comes to mind? Relief? Regret? Joy? Sorrow? Or perhaps something else much different and more complex?

Maestro Brisk: After serving 25 years as Music Director of the Beach Cities Symphony, which is both a quarter of a century, and a third of my life, it became the correct time for me to depart. At the age of 76 I don’t have the same energy as I did, and with age there are health issues which can be involved. It’s the appropriate time for me to depart and make room for a younger successor. Both I and the orchestra will move on and have new experiences.

I want to go out while I am still on top, still competent. We have all witnessed it, in various professions, that a key person lingered on too long, to the point where he/she was no longer effective. That person must then be asked to leave. It’s embarrassing for both parties. It is best to leave while everyone is happy.

ER: When you started here, what were your thoughts about longevity in the position, and what were you thinking about presenting to the public? Did your expectations play out accordingly, or did they take a different path?

Brisk: When you start any sort of a job, you don’t really think about longevity. If you enjoy it, you simply continue. Before you know it, your gray hair has turned white. My object was to present high quality concerts. There are several parts to this. It means a high level of performance. It also means presenting repertoire that both the audience and the musicians will enjoy. A big part of that, however, is presenting music that neither the orchestra nor the audience has been exposed to. Repertoire that is unknown but deserving of performance. Therefore, I presented at least one piece by a local composer every season. I consider that to be one of my major accomplishments.

ER: Are you continuing to be involved with orchestras closer to your home in Woodland Hills?

Brisk: My orchestral activities will continue. I am currently playing viola in two orchestras much closer to my home in Woodland Hills. One of them has featured me as guest conductor and composer. I am also involved with a string quartet.

ER: You’ve presented five of your own compositions, including three premieres. Are you continuing to write, to have performed, and to record additional works?

Brisk: Composing is an ongoing activity for me. Next year a new concerto of mine will receive its world premiere. Other compositions will follow. Many of my works are available on Youtube.

Barry Brisk and the Beach Cities Symphony. Photo ©

ER: Perhaps “favorite moments” is too broad and vague a question to ask, but could you mention a couple of memorable moments (or anecdotes) from your many years with Beach Cities Symphony?

Brisk: I am particularly proud of the extremely difficult repertoire we have performed. Bruckner’s symphonies, Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” (1919), Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloé” (2nd Suite), Debussy’s “La Mer.” These are compositions other community orchestras do not attempt.

One of my favorite memories is of a young lady violinist. She was very pregnant at our May concert several years ago. She played the concert, with her husband backstage, just in case. After the concert she broke water, and at 6 a.m. the next morning her first child was born.

ER: Other than the long drive from Woodland Hills to Torrance and Redondo, what else do you think you’ll miss about your quarter century with the orchestra?

Brisk: I would estimate that in 25 years, 80 percent of the musicians in the orchestra have changed. That’s normal. But I have particularly cherished the personal relationships that have developed. Relationships between me and the players, and relationships between the musicians. These human qualities are just as important to the health of an orchestra as the musical results we achieve.

Several of the musicians who have been performing with Barry Brisk and the Beach Cities Symphony have looked back upon their experiences and wanted to share some thoughts about Maestro Brisk.

Concertmaster Rebecca Rutkowski as been with the orchestra for the full 25 years that Brisk has led the symphony:

“From the very first rehearsal, I was stuck by the respect and diplomacy Barry used while working with both professional and amateur musicians … There was always a charm and humor coupled with challenging us to learn new music. And the non-standard repertory was often championed and introduced to the musicians and our audiences.

“Every May the Maestro would don his white summer jacket for the concert that features four young soloists. It was great watching Barry introduce them (to the audience) and instruct them on the orchestral soloist’s walk and bow onto the stage, always kindly and with a professionalism straight from his days in Vienna at the Academy of Music.

“He is a father, friend, and colleague to each of us in the Beach Cities Symphony. We love and respect him and have had some of the most glorious moments of our lives sharing music together.”

Before going on stage, Barry Brisk joking with his concertmaster, Rebecca Rutkowski in 2009

From long-time violinist Susan Stolovy:

“It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege playing in the Beach Cities Symphony under Barry Brisk’s baton. He has a very clear conducting style and always ran his rehearsals with thoughtfulness, efficiency and humor. He cares about each of the players, knows all of our names and is amazingly even-tempered and jovial all the way up to performance time. I have played under many conductors in the past who would fly into a rage at a missed entrance or a wrong note during rehearsal. Not Maestro Brisk!

Barry’s choice of repertoire, combined with his great conducting skills, his worldly experience, and his personality, has resulted in a deeply enriching and enjoyable musical experience for both the musicians and the audience.

“Best of luck to you, Barry. We will miss you!”

From bassoonist Erika Robinson:

“I’ve been playing with the Beach Cities Symphony for nearly 21 years, and Barry is the only conductor that I have had. So, when I think of him stepping down, it’s like thinking about a family member retiring. Since joining in 1999, we had a second child (between concerts!), had Boy Scouts come up and visit the orchestra, have gone from Kindergarten to 12th grade (twice!), and even had graduations (one from college so far). So for us it’s truly been a ‘family’ affair.”

And from violinist Rick Hazen:

“It has been my great privilege to play under Maestro Brisk’s direction for 14 years and 57 concerts … Barry has brought to the orchestra an unbridled enthusiasm for the seminal works of classical music, while at the same time embracing local composers and introducing several compositions of his own. He maintains a thorough understanding of the repertoire, and confidently and competently conveys his vision of each piece to the orchestra on a weekly basis.

“His programming has been challenging for a community orchestra, but by performance evenings in each concert cycle we have a true sense of accomplishment in being able to deliver beautiful music to a diverse audience. As a wonderful bonus, he accents each rehearsal with unfailing good humor.

“All of us in the orchestra believe that he still has many outstanding performances yet to deliver. But we respect his decision to step away, all the while deeply appreciative of the guidance he has provided. We wish him and his wife all the best in retirement, and hope that he will stay in touch with the group to whom he has meant so much.”

The Beach Cities Symphony, conducted by Barry Brisk, presents its final concert of the 69th season at 8 p.m. on Friday in Marsee Auditorium at El Camino College, Crenshaw and Redondo Beach boulevards, Torrance. The “Artists of the Future” concert features four soloists, violinists Matthew Chang and Anthony Yoon, cellist Austin Park, and pianist Allison Yun. The program includes works by Paganini, Haydn, Wieniawski, Prokofiev, Berlioz, and Rimsky-Korsakov. A farewell party for Maestro Brisk is being held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the south patio, adjacent to Marsee Auditorium. Free party, free refreshments; and the concert is free as well. On-campus parking, however, is $3. Call (310) 379-9725 or go to ER


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