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Rachel Schneider is another civic booster in Canton, being on the board of several cultural entities, especially the Canton Symphony Orchestra and the Museum. She and Mr Albacete are 'both passionate about Wagnerian operas' and when he called one day and asked, 'how would you like to co-chair a Richard Wagner Symposium?', of course, the answer could only be yes!

It was such a good idea, they put some ideas on paper, and promptly presented it to Mr Strawn at the foundation, and almost as fast as you can say International Wagner Symposium, plans were underway for the first one, which was a happy success in June 2004. The foundation has been very supportive since the Symposium's inception, as has the Ohio Humanities Council. This year The Stark County Convention and Visitors' Bureau is a sponsor, too, for the first time.

'It just fell into place because Al and I are passionate about Wagner', says Ms Schneider. 'We had dreamed for some time of such a project but couldn't decide on what. One can get focused after finding funding. Jim Strawn participated in the first Symposium but he died while the second one was in the planning stages. He was very pleased that a project which "would have thrilled Miss Wendling" had materialized. He also saw the opportunities this symposium would have for Canton.'

Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner

It was an entirely ambitious program; had they taken more time to think about it, it might not have happened. But it did, and it was a smashing success! Sixty Wagner devotees attended that first year, and promised to come to the next one. Perry Lorenzo of the Seattle Opera gave three vibrant and animated talks, The Ring as Wagner's Mirror, Wagner 'Ring' Productions, and Wagner and the Visual Arts; Simon Williams talked about Wagner's Romantic Heroes, and Matthew Gurewitsch presented From Page to Stage: The Story of Gottfried. Marc A Weiner's talk was entitled Some Things are Better Left Unsaid: Wagner's Hidden Message, which addressed Wagner's anti-semitism. There was a film; and, of course, there was music! Lots of music, including a recital Songs and Arias by Wagner and his Contemporaries by noted baritone Richard Paul Fink, who grew up nearby, and was only too happy to come sing in his own backyard. So to speak.

Most of the people who attended that first year did return for the next one, plus a few new attendees came in early November 2005. Considering the size of the staff (five museum staffers plus Ms Schneider and Mr Albacete), it was decided that eighteen months is a nice interval, allowing time to catch one's breath before starting all over again. Ms Schneider adds, 'One year is just not enough time to do this, but in two years, you lose momentum. This timing works out very well.'

That second symposium was similar yet vastly different. Canada's Iain Scott had two presentations: The Die Meistersinger Quintet: the High Point of Western Civilization and A New 'Ring' in a New Concert Hall: The Toronto Cycle (now history following its successful début in September 2006). Jonathan Dean (of Seattle Opera) addressed Wagner and Young Audiences, while P Craig Russell discussed The Artist's Challenge: Illustrating Wagner's Ring.

Cleveland professor and scholar Edward Haymes talked about The Two Rings: Wagner and Tolkien, and all the speakers were part of the opening night colloquium: Why I'm Wild About Wagner. But Wagner is music, after all, and it was generally thought that the highlight was Sunday evening's all-Wagner concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra with music director Gerhardt Zimmermann in charge. Featuring the outstanding voices of soprano Susan Marie Pierson with bass-baritone Charles Robert Austin, there were several selections from Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung.

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Copyright © 10 April 2007 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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