Churchill composer's work evokes feelings from Frick Park
As the strains of a new composition, “Frick Gates,” rose at Succop Theater, part of the Butler County Community College Cultural Center, the notes carried significant meaning for the first bassoonist.
Mark Fromm, 32, of Churchill not only played a solo, but composed the piece that the Pittsburgh Philharmonic premiered last week at the first of a four-concert series at the Cultural Center that concludes in May.
Fromm said he wrote “Frick Gates” to evoke the four stone gatehouses of Pittsburgh's largest public park, all designed by John Russell Pope, the architect responsible for the Jefferson Memorial.
“I wanted it to be accessible to the public, so it sounds lush and evocative of Frick Park,” Fromm said. “It's not really about the gates; it starts slowly and picks up speed. It's kind of (evocative of) the seasons of the park, when life starts to blossom and then fades away come winter.”
Fromm developed his love of music at an early age.
“When I was younger, my grandparents had a keyboard and organ at home” on which to experiment, Fromm said. In fifth grade, he started clarinet lessons at school.
“Once I could play (the clarinet) fairly well, I wanted to start writing” music, Fromm said. He enrolled in the Duquesne City Music Center, based at Duquesne University, on weekends, where he studied composition. After graduating from Riverview High School in Oakmont, he attended Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned a degree in music. Fromm also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from McGill University in Montreal, and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh.
“What I remember the most about him was that he was a talented and passionate musician,” said Nancy Galbraith, CMU professor of music, under whom Fromm studied composition. He considers Galbraith a mentor.
“He composed using not just interesting ideas, but also by writing extraordinarily well for the instruments,” Galbraith said. “Being a performer himself, he knows how to write music that is enjoyable to perform.”
Studying music composition means not only studying music theory, but each instrument to determine its range, said Fromm, who teaches music and composition at Pittsburgh CAPA.
“He's an enormous talent,” said Bridget Meacham of East Liberty, president of the Philharmonic. “He's a fantastic bassoon player in addition to being a composer. He draws from his childhood.”
Fromm's music “takes you to another place,” Meacham said. She called “Frick Gates” “wonderful.”
“I absolutely love this piece,” she said.
It was part of the Philharmonic's concert program called “Songs from Home.”
“They sound fantastic in my theater,” Larry Stock, director of the Cultural Center, said of the orchestra. “Our acoustics are really good. I present this (orchestra) without amplification.”
The Ben Avon-based Philharmonic has two paid musicians, a concertmaster and principal cellist, as well as a paid music director, Edward Leonard.
“He's done a marvelous job,” Stock said. “They've always had strong brass; now their strings are amazing. They do a fine job and make it very affordable.”
The orchestra has 50 to 70 musicians, who are music teachers, university professors, businesspeople, students, doctors and lawyers, Meacham said.
“It's (composed of) people who have music as their avocation,” Meacham said. “This year, we are focusing more on new music.”
Formerly the North Pittsburgh Philharmonic, the group changed its name nearly a decade ago.
“We do concerts throughout the area, not just the north,” Meacham said.
By playing throughout Western Pennsylvania, the Philharmonic fulfills its mission “to serve the community by providing educational entertainment” and making it affordable, Meacham said.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.