The Norman Transcript

January 10, 2014

Norman Philharmonic to pair Beethoven with Basie

by Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — It won’t be a matter of ‘roll over Beethoven’ at Norman Philharmonic’s first performance in 2014 on Jan. 19.

The cat named Ludwig’s 18th century classical grooves will be performed in the same concert as tributes to modern jazz heroes Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and Charlie “Bird” Parker.

“We’re trying to approach orchestral music in a little different way than a lot of symphonies and chamber orchestras in the U.S.,” Norman Phil Music and Artistic Director Richard Zielinski said. “We intend to produce a variety of music. You won’t hear a whole concert of Mozart.”

Zielinski said Norman’s 3-year-old philharmonic’s upcoming concert will include a variety of classical music as well as American music, such as work composed by Aaron Copland, and a variety of jazz.

It’s not difficult to imagine that pairing a polka by Igor Stravinsky followed by Barry Switzer guest conducting the theme from movie “The Magnificent Seven” might raise eyebrows. But Zielinski is fearless that way and believes it’s just right for our diverse American culture.

“In the second half of the concert we’ll bring in the Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra,” he said. “When the curtain opens you’ll see an old time jazz ensemble like Count Basie would have had, along with strings from Norman Philharmonic. You won’t find that in a lot of symphony concerts around the country.”

Zielinski likes to stir things up and what he’s learned is that Norman Philharmonic’s musicians dig the style and genre change-ups.

“Music is music to me and I’ve been told I’m very different from a lot of classical conductors,” he said. “There’s good jazz and good rock ‘n’ roll just like a lot of it is bad. You’ll find that in all kinds of music.”

The notion that some baroque composers suck is not anathema to him. Breaking down comfort zones and helping listeners understand that all music involves emotional expression is his aim. Zielinski is a guy who always played piano and sang but also attended undergraduate school on a football scholarship.

“There’s no difference to me between being a conductor and being a point guard on the basketball court,” he said.

Zielinski described himself as a servant of the community with his task being delivery of music.

Norman Philharmonic’s mission has an educational component and they’re in alliance with the Norman Public School district.

“We get our programs to the music teachers who take it to third through fifth graders,” Zielinski said. “They learn about the composers and the music we’re doing. We’ll also be doing some heavy recruiting among the high school jazz band members for them to come to the concert.”

NPS Superintendent Joseph Siano and Director of Fine Arts Brad Benson have been instrumental in organizing events where thousands of students have been exposed to some of America’s most prominent composers.

“Those kids have been blown away,” Zielinski said.

Both among educators and the community-at-large, Norman Philharmonic has been received with open arms. Because the Nancy O’Brian Center for Performing Arts was at capacity (1,200) during its first concert, over 300 potential listeners were turned away.

“This town is built on family, faith and education,” Zielinski said. “We really value those things and you don’t see that everywhere. Also the arts are recognized here as being important.”

He credited Republic Bank and Trust’s President and CEO Chuck Thompson with being one of the visionaries that led to the Norman Philharmonic becoming a reality.

“He knew a symphony and music would be important to Norman,” Zielinski said. “Along with people like him we need volunteers and fundraisers. We’re doing everything we can to keep ticket prices at ten bucks. The minute you raise them to $50 you’ve excluded much of the community and we want families to be in this audience. Norman Philharmonic is for the community, that’s what it’s all about. The more response Norman gives us, the more motivated we’ll be to keep bringing better and more challenging music.”

Jerry Neil Smith founded Norman’s first chamber orchestra in 1980. He’s now a member of the Norman Philharmonic’s Artistic Advisory Board of Directors.

“Norman Philharmonic’s concert this month will include many fine players who can play any literature,” Smith said. “There will be a lot of modern music that orchestras of that size don’t usually attempt because it takes too much rehearsal.”


The Norman Philharmonic’s “Classical Meets Jazz” concert is scheduled for 3 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Nancy O’Brian Center for Performing Arts, 1809 Stubbeman Ave. General admission tickets are $10 and are available from

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