The Maestro Returns to Madison
Madison’s Fourth of July Concert returns after a three-year hiatus caused by weather and the pandemic, and the parade and fireworks display will also be making their return as well. Conducting the Wallingford Symphony Orchestra (WSO) for the concert will be Madison resident Maestro Philip Ventre, who comes from an incredibly diverse and talented musical background.
Philip is a three-time Grammy nominated Conductor, he headed the music program and taught at Choate Rosemary Hall (CRH), conducting all of its musical ensembles. For 50 years, he has served as the musical director of the Wallingford Symphony Orchestra, which he founded and which has garnered huge acclaim for presentation of challenging works and the orchestra’s stellar musicianship.
Philip toured the world with the CRH orchestras and ensembles playing all over Europe, Korea, and China, including the Great Wall, and says he is simply thrilled to be able to bring his symphony to his hometown again and present an evening of beautiful music under the stars on Saturday July 2.
His leadership on those ensembles garnered a stellar reputation for Philip and Choate.
“I taught at Choate for 50 years and that really was an amazing career. My musicians and the orchestra toured all over the world, 12 European countries, many times, China, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and even the White House-no kids have done that,” the Maestro says with pride, not for himself, but for the students he mentored. “It was a very exciting thing to be with these incredibly gifted students and bring this music all over the world. The people we met, the history we saw and played…It was a truly amazing time. I cherished every note we played to those audiences.”
Among the few whose accomplishments can hold a candle to Philip’s musical gifts are his family members. Philip’s father and several uncles were well-respected composers, arrangers, musicians, and band leaders. The list of luminaries whom Philip’s family members played with, toured with, and collaborated with is a who’s who of the Jazz age through the 1940s and beyond, from Count Basie and Tony Bennett to Jimmy Dorsey and Yma Sumac and more.
And that list is mostly just his Uncle Frank; the musical talents of Philip’s father and his other uncles is just as impressive.
In fact, one of the compositions that Philip and the WSO will be presenting on July 2 is the world premiere of a jazz co-arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by his uncle Frank Ventre, that Philip’s cousin, Peter, just recently found during research for the family archive.
“I was so fortunate growing up. The heritage I come from is really just incredible. I was surrounded by music growing up, and surrounded by such an incredible pool of talent,” says Philip. “I guess I was kind of destined for a musical career. All my uncles played; my father played; even my mother was a singer. There was constant music in the house all the time. Both my mother and father gave lessons, so music was important, to say the least.”
The WSO with Philip conducting has played in more than 10 Connecticut towns. Philip says the acclaim WSO receives is wonderful, but being on stage with some of the region’s best musicians and coalescing all of that talent into a presentation is what drives him, even in his retirement.
“I am truly blessed. The New York Times has praised the orchestra, and we have performed with some of the best and most famous people in the world, but no matter who we play with or for, the symphony is and always has been filled with the best musicians around. Our track record surely shows that. I truly feel blessed when I think about it, because to lead such incredible talent is a blessing,” Philip says. “The people I have had the honor and privilege to conduct and play with are cherished memories for me.”
Philip has many great stories about many musical stars from Arthur Fielder of the Boston Pops to Victor Borge and Dave Brubeck.
“My summer job in 1966 was working as a waiter on Cape Cod, next to the melody tent [a performance space], when Dave Brubeck came in for dinner before his evening performance” says Philip.
Philip coxed a reluctant maître d’ to let him wait on the incomparable artist, as Philip was agog that one of his musical heroes was at the restaurant before his performance.
“I said, ‘I have to wait on him!,’” says Philip. “So I pestered him with all of the questions- ‘Why is “Take Five” in 5/4 [tempo], Why 7/4?,’ and blah and blah and blah…so he goes off to do his show and got the thrill of my young life. So, fast forward to 1977…”
Philip ran into Brubeck again at another festival and related the story to him of their previous encounter in Cape Cod.
“And he said ‘You?! All I wanted to do was have my dinner in peace and you were the one asking me all those damn questions!’ But Dave was an incredible talent and a very nice man. He played with us twice,” Philip says with a laugh.
Philip says he very excited to be performing before a hometown audience, especially after a three-year hiatus; 2019’s concert was canceled due to rain and 2020-’21 due to COVID.
“We are so excited for this year. The Madison Cultural Arts [the sponsor of the concert] is just a great organization. It has been a wonderful relationship and they are such a wonderful group and so kind,” the maestro says. “So caring, they support so much and we feel blessed to be part of this event. We really hope people come out for this. The program will be a very special one with a lot of favorites and some new interpretations and some very interesting pieces that we think everyone will truly enjoy.”
The Independence Day Concert will be Saturday, July 2 at 6:15 p.m. on the Madison Green. The rain date is Monday, July 4 at 6:15 p.m.
The fireworks will be on Sunday, July 3 at 9:30 p.m., followed Monday, July 4 by the parade at 10 a.m. It will leave Stop & Shop and proceed down Route 1 to end at the Surf Club.