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Heartfelt Tributes for Symphony Pro Musica

SPM’s playing was thrilling, because it was so accomplished, so solid and so comfortable.  The orchestra clearly loves to be playing this music, and they shared their joy with all of us. What a beautiful program and what an inspiring afternoon!

Not many community orchestras dare to program Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony. Or Shostakovich’s First. Or Mahler’s Third. Then again, most community orchestras aren’t Symphony Pro Musica. For more than four decades now, SPM has set the bar for non-professional ensembles across the country with programs that are not just consistently fresh and thought-provoking – ones, in fact, you wouldn’t mind seeing on the Boston Symphony’s season announcements – but with performances to match.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, it’s a reflection of the special relationship that’s been cultivated between the group and its conductor, Mark Churchill. A man whose formidable musical gifts, pedagogical skills, and artistic vision are belied by a calming presence and a humble disposition, Mark has crafted a truly remarkable ensemble in SPM. Whether playing music by Mozart, Brahms, William Levi Dawson, or Lili Boulanger, Mark’s performances aim for a mix of expressive clarity and revelation – sometimes of under-represented fare, always of the music at hand. Often enough, too, he involves world-class soloists in the process.  

As a result, SPM’s concerts frequently call to mind Virgil Thomson’s observation of a community orchestra he heard in action in Northfield, MA back in 1941. “Rarely,” Thomson noted, “have I heard an amateur orchestral concert so glowing with musical life.”  So it goes in these parts for forty years and counting: the passion, understanding, and insight that defines SPM’s playing is very much a reflection of Mark’s leadership, musicianship, and dedication to his craft and his players. That combination – not least the end result – is, indeed, rare, special, and worthy of celebration.

Symphony Pro Musica played on a level far beyond what anyone expects from a ‘community orchestra’ serving a local area — the solo playing was all excellent and so were the individual sections of the orchestra. A real sense of common endeavor!  

I am privileged to have known SPM for many years. With SPM, I got to learn and perform works that have become essential in my concerto repertoire, but more importantly, I realized that a truly rewarding concert experience comes from the trust, passion, and support among pure-hearted musicians. It is this spirit of the orchestra, which is becoming more rare in our age, that I so deeply cherish.

SPM and Mark Churchill will always hold a special place in my heart. Mr. Churchill and the orchestra were so crucial and formative in my development as a pianist and musician - I am forever grateful for their trust in me, allowing me to perform numerous concertos that I was learning for the first time. I learned so much from each of these unforgettable experiences, and it brings me great joy and warmth to see SPM in full blossom and continuing to support and help young artists and musicians around the world.

Playing with SPM over the years has been such an important part of my musical journey and growth. I cherish the memories of playing my first performances of core repertoire works with the orchestra in the region where I grew up. It has been a delight to see how Maestro Churchill brings fantastically original programming to the community while maintaining a high standard of artistic excellence and fostering great enthusiasm among the musicians. I am very grateful for all the opportunities that SPM has given me, and I look forward performing in the future with this wonderful organization!

Mark Churchill and Symphony Pro Musica truly play for the love of music. Mark’s deep experience, musicality, and endless dedication to the cause are inspiring. The orchestra plays music for all the right reasons: with curiosity, seriousness of purpose, and enthusiasm

I had the pleasure of working with Maestro Churchill with Symphony Pro Musica where we performed Jessie Montgomery’s Divided for cello and strings and Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso.  As a soloist, the stress and intensity of the role becomes downright enjoyable when the conductor is connected to your every whim—it felt as though Mark Churchill exemplified this connection while we worked together. His thorough knowledge of the score, in both the new and old repertoire we performed, was incredibly impressive. Symphony Pro Musica was very responsive to all of the conductor’s suggestions and welcomed changes even on the concert day. SPM felt like a true family and, as soloist, I felt like a welcome guest at their dinner table. Everyone was so easy to talk to during rehearsal breaks, and I met so many fascinating people. I am really looking forward to working together again with Mark Churchill and SPM in the near future!

I was fortunate enough last season to have the opportunity to do my very first performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the wonderful SPM and the ever-supportive Mark Churchill. For a young soloist, this is a breathtaking opportunity! I will never forget those two concerts, because the Beethoven concerto is a forever project, and I learned so much just by working on it together with SPM and Mark. Thank you for the invaluable experience and for all you do to support young artists!

At the heart of Symphony Pro Musica is Mark Churchill's artistry as a conductor and director.

One of Maestro Churchill’s gifts as a director is his ability to guide us in finding the essence of the music, helping us become enchanted with the sound world we are creating and inhabiting.

His dedication to honing phrasing and articulation is unwavering, resulting in a level of musical expressiveness that consistently surpasses the expectations of a community orchestra.

Through his leadership and deep understanding of the musical landscape, he inspires each player to contribute to their fullest, leaning into the musical moment we are striving to create. SPM stands out for our remarkable tradition of collaborating with incredibly gifted, musically mature young artists as part of their formative experiences soloing with orchestra.  SPM players and audiences revel in a balance of stimulating contemporary compositions and an ever-deepening appreciation for cherished favorites.  It's been an honor to serve as concertmaster in an orchestra so full of heart and spirit for over a decade.

In the medical profession, it is sometimes debated, “What’s more important, the heart or the brain?” Without the heart, no life exists, however life with only a pulsating heartbeat but no brain activity is dull and meaningless. Under the masterful direction of Maestro Mark Churchill, Symphony Pro Musica has both a strong rhythm and the lively multifaceted brains of 70+ musicians conjoined together to present evocative performances to enrich the lives of the community. For 40 years, Maestro Churchill has created compelling concerts designed to stimulate both musicians and audiences with adventurous programming and dazzling soloists. To work with Mark Churchill is to watch a true master of his craft. His attention to every musical detail and nuance is unparalleled and his rapport with soloists attracts world class musicians.

I’ve been playing the bassoon for more than 60 years and have played for at least as many different conductors. Mark Churchill is simply the best. I first joined SPM in 1989 and have been with the orchestra ever since. Mark’s manner of working with his musicians is very special. I’ve never known him to demean a player for playing something badly or making a mistake. He has infinite patience to try to get the very best out of each player. On the other hand, he wants the best players he can get and is very good at choosing players who not only play well but who have the appropriate attitude so that they will enjoy playing in the orchestra for a long time. Attracting talented players is a huge part of Mark’s responsibilities for the orchestra, and he takes it very seriously and does it well. His programming, too, is outstanding. He’s sensitive to the fine line between pleasing the audience and the orchestra all while staying within the practical parameters of instrumentation and playability.  Mark has introduced me to many wonderful pieces that otherwise I might never have known. Above all, Mark is friendly and welcoming to new players. That makes a big difference to someone just joining us and has made SPM a wonderful community as well as a respected and loved orchestra.

Playing under the baton of Mark Churchill with Symphony Pro Musica for two seasons was a uniquely wonderful experience.  No wonder, Mark’s musical imagination combined with his ability to relay his ideas to the orchestra resulted in memorable performances.  Mark’s earnest, music-loving approach, as well as his ability to shape the rehearsal sequence so that everyone could play with confidence at concert night, created a congenial atmosphere that made all of us give our best. I cherish my memories of both the rehearsals and the concerts and remain grateful to Mark for making it possible for me to play the clarinet parts in Symphony Pro Musica’s 2021-2023 seasons.

Four years ago I embarked on a life-changing journey as I became a part of Symphony Pro Musica, led by maestro Mark Churchill. Joining this orchestra was like finding a home for my soul - a place where music flourishes with its own unique resonance and radiates boundless positive energy. Every time I play alongside my fellow musicians, I feel their hearts intertwining with mine, all pouring their love into every note we play. Maestro Mark's guidance and the carefully chosen repertoire allow us to reveal our true selves through the music, making each performance a deeply personal and transformative experience. The rehearsals are not just practice sessions; they are infused with love, passion, and a shared desire to bring out the very essence of each musician's artistry. Being a part of this orchestra has awakened a profound connection to the music and my fellow musicians. SPM will forever hold a special place in my heart, as it is where I've discovered the true power of music and the beauty of souls uniting through music.

Playing in Symphony Pro Musica has been a wonderful experience.   Mark Churchill’s skills as a conductor are truly impressive.  His musicality, technique and passion are on the highest level.  I learn something in every rehearsal and leave inspired!  His musical interpretations are superb. As a professional musician, I can say with confidence that I have rarely played under the baton of someone as gifted as Maestro Churchill.  The orchestra continues to improve under Mark’s baton, as he lifts the group to ever higher levels.

In my thirty-two plus years of being involved with Symphony Pro Musica, as a devoted audience member, and eight years as President of the Board of Directors, I have often stated that the organization always felt very much like a family. Each concert, especially the first of the year, felt very much like a family reunion; of familiar faces catching up with each other, which included not only the many returning audience members, but also our conductor Mark Churchill and the many talented musicians and young soloists with the orchestra, all happy to be back to perform and enjoy some of the greatest music ever written. But also, SPM represented more than just being a musical family. In a world of great uncertainties, and sometimes even of terror, Symphony Pro Musica has always been there for us. Always been there with the assurance that no matter how we felt when we arrived at one of our concerts, we would all – audience members, conductor, and orchestra - feel much better when we left. How many things are there left in today’s world with that level of reliability and assurance? So I say, thank goodness for music. Thank goodness for Beethoven, for Giuseppe Verdi, for Gustav Mahler, and most especially, thank goodness for Symphony Pro Musica.

Upon returning to this area after an absence of several decades, I happily discovered the existence of a wonderfully accomplished regional symphony orchestra.   My first attendance at a concert by Symphony Pro Musica under the direction of its founding conductor, Maestro Mark Churchill, was so delightful that I immediately became a subscribing member.   I’ve been a patron ever since and encourage live-music lovers to attend and enjoy SPM concerts and become patrons, too.