Music News & Reviews

Quite an instrumental undertaking

Michael Neumann, longtime artistic director of the Sacramento Youth Symphony, will conduct an orchestra of 1,000 performers young and old Sunday at Memorial Auditorium.
Michael Neumann, longtime artistic director of the Sacramento Youth Symphony, will conduct an orchestra of 1,000 performers young and old Sunday at Memorial Auditorium. Sacramento Bee file

Michael Neumann has his multitude of players. Now he needs an audience to match.

Sunday at Memorial Auditorium, Neumann and his massive ensemble hope to make history as the largest group of musicians to perform together in concert in Sacramento – or likely anywhere in Northern California.

Under his baton, more than 1,000 musicians of all ages will join together to form a “Symphony of 1000.” It’s an ode to music-making with overtures to community involvement and the power of a big idea.

“It’s a huge, one-time, never-before-seen-in-this-entire-region kind of concert,” said Neumann, who also serves as artistic director of the Sacramento Youth Symphony program. “It’s a big undertaking.”

Neumann will lead the legions of strings, winds and percussion with the help of large projection screens.

“My main job will be to keep time,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll use the big screens in real time so everybody can see me.

“It’s a crazy idea and I take full responsibility for it,” he added. “It’s obviously resonating with people. It’s an experiment – we’ve never tried anything like this. The results will be a surprise.”

Of the 1,000-plus players, about 385 are members of the Sacramento Youth Symphony program.

“We’ll have players age 10 to 80 or older – I really have no idea until everybody shows up,” Neumann said. “There were no auditions. It’s just whoever signed up. We not only have student musicians, but their teachers and many, many community musicians. They could be high school musicians or (people) in their 70s picking up their instruments again.”

The project reached its goal of 1,000 performers 10 days before its Oct. 2 deadline and registration cut-off.

“But we’d really like people to come hear them,” Neumann said. “This is history-making.”

Divided into groups by levels of expertise, the 1,000-plus players will crowd the floor of the Memorial Auditorium with the audience seated in the surrounding balcony. Starting at noon, the musicians will rehearse the program with the more experienced players performing more complicated parts. In advance, the participants could download sheet music from the event’s program to practice.

The show aims to be a crowd-pleaser. Neumann chose a program of short and memorable favorites.

“There’s nothing esoteric,” he said. “It’s all music people will easily recognize. We’ll play ‘Stars and Stripes Forever,’ Bizet’s ‘Carmen Suite,’ Mussorgsky’s ‘Great Gate of Kiev.’ People may not know the name of those pieces, but they’ll immediately know the music. It’s all short, sweet and to the point.

“The hardest part will be getting everybody to stay together,” he said.

At 4 p.m., the audience will hear the results in this special concert. The ticket price ($10 general, $5 children) goes toward the expense of renting the auditorium.

Helping with the logistics of this gigantic orchestral moment are Robert Vann, the youth symphony’s general manager, and Capital Public Radio’s Sean Bianco, who serves as event coordinator. “Insight” host Beth Ruyak will emcee the concert.

“It’s taken the last year and a half to put this all together,” Neumann said. “We’ve all been working very hard to make this happen.”

This won’t be the all-time biggest orchestra. According to Guinness World Records, the largest orchestra ever assembled had 7,724 players, who got together at last year’s Queensland Music Festival in Australia. They played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and an orchestral (but very loud) version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

But this will be the fulfillment of an actual dream for Neumann.

“As a conductor, I study scores for my education and entertainment,” he explained. “A couple of years ago, I was reading Mahler’s Eighth (Symphony) before bed; it’s known as the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ because it takes such a huge ensemble to perform.

“That night, I had a dream,” he added. “In my dream, I had gathered 1,000 players together and they were all playing together at the same time. It was wonderful.

“I had this dream and it stuck with me,” Neumann said. “And now it’s just a few days away from becoming reality.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.


Where: Memorial Auditorium, 16th and J streets, Sacramento

When: Rehearsal for performers, noon Sunday. Performance for public, 4 p.m.

Admission: $10 general; $5 children (age 12 and under)