When Chris Bergeron raises his baton and brings it down for the first notes of the concert he will be conducting on Oct. 8, it will mark the start of the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra’s first season as an independent entity.
Founded by Bergeron and Joseph Cieslak in 2012, NOVO started as a small chamber ensemble at Loyola University. Within three years it had grown into the largest all-volunteer community orchestra in the New Orleans region.
After attracting about 60 instrumentalists and 40-plus chorus members, the two founders decided to separate the orchestra from Loyola this season and fly solo with it as a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization.
NOVO’s free, season-opening concert Thursday evening at the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, on the corner of St. Charles and Broadway Street, will feature an eclectic mix of classics and pops tunes. From Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” NOVO will be catering to a wide range of age groups and demographics, as Bergeron pointed out.
“We always pick music that the audience responds to pretty well,” Bergeron said. “We play a lot of movie and video game soundtracks, so we attract the younger crowd by doing that, but we also play a lot of very popular classical selections that older people might like.”
As stated on its website, the group’s mission is “accessible concerts for everyone, all-inclusive free membership and music education and arts outreach.”
“We believe in the philosophy that everyone should experience a classical concert they can afford. So we play for free,” Bergeron said, adding, “We do accept donations, though. That’s the only way we survive and pay our bills.”
NOVO’s season-opening concert will begin with the first movement of Carl Orff’s Latin-language orchestral and choral composition, “Carmina Burana,” which includes “Oh Fortuna,” one of the best-known chorus pieces of 20th century music.
Other works to be performed that evening will include the first movement from the “New World Symphony,” a 10-minute selection from “The Lord of the Rings” Symphony and Gabriel Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” (for piano and choir only).
There will also be an original piece arranged by Cieslak titled “Nearer to Thee” which Bergeron described as “a group of common church hymns that he put together with the choir and the orchestra.”
The 60- to 70-minute concert will conclude with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” featuring the orchestra, chorus and soloists.
Bergeron described the makeup of NOVO as “about half Loyola and Tulane people and half community members.” Many of the chorus members, including Cieslak, sang with the Loyola University Chorale in the Mahler “Resurrection” Symphony performance that opened the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s current season at the Orpheum Theater last month.
The Voices of New Orleans choir was created in February 2015 to accompany NOVO performances throughout the concert season.
It is described on the NOVO website as being “all inclusive, inviting everyone who wishes to sing or learn how to sing. Even if you have trouble or can’t read music, our amazing staff and experienced members will help you get there.”
Lesley De Martin is VONO’s choir director.
A 2013 graduate of Loyola’s Music Education program, Bergeron, 24, counts himself among the current generation of young conductors who, in his words, “is not a boss but a fellow musician.”
His biography describes him as being “an advocate of minimizing the celebrity status of the 21st century conductor.”
NOVO is looking for more musicians in several instrumental sections, especially all four string categories, Bergeron said. “We also want as many choir people as we can get. There is no limit on that.”
Future NOVO performances include a Christmas concert on Dec. 11, as well as a concert in the spring, full details of which will be announced as the date gets closer.