BREVARD SYMPHONY begins season with Beethoven and Piszczek

Mark Piszczek


I am SO looking forward to the Brevard Symphony Orchestra’s season opener Saturday evening. The reason is simple — a brilliant classic work and a promising new work, both designed to stir emotions and stimulate intellect.

And…it’s nearly sold out.

You already know Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. That has the glorious Ode to Joy, sung here by the Brevard Community Chorus, conducted by Robert Lamb. Of course, the entire symphony will be led by Maestro Christopher Confessore. I have vivid memories of the last time the BSO performed this piece. It was the best experience of the season … and, a season highlighted by none other than Itzhak Perlman.

But the concert begins with the world premiere of Mark Piszczek’s “Songs from the Gulf of Sorrows.”

Mr. Piszczek is son of veteran scenic designer Mae Piszczek, a beloved fixture in Brevard’s theater community. Mark, 58, got involved a bit in theater at Melbourne High School and at the old Indian River Players (now MCT) where he was part of a group of young tag-alongs affectionately called IRP’s “lobby babies.”

But he found himself drawn to music. Even as a teenager, he played oboe and English horn with the BSO.

“There were some pretty spectacular musicians in high school back then,” he said. “The stuff we played was probably a lot more ambitious than most.”

After graduating high school, Mr. Piszczek attended the University of South Florida and then the University of Wisconsin in Platteville. He performed for a while as a jazz musicians and then went back to school. He studied with composers Elliott Schwartz and Dan Sonenberg at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, where he received his masters.

He recently returned to Central Florida and lives in Winter Park, where he and a business partner are creating the 200-seat Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts, which will have both a performing arts center and a recording studio.

It was during the one-year anniversary of the 2011 Gulf oil spill disaster that Mr. Piszczek was inspired to write “Songs from the Gulf of Sorrows.”

“I was in my loft in Peterboro, NH,” he said. “I was watching a news broadcast and they were doing this sort of s a special documentary about the effect of the oil spill on the wild life in the gulf region. The footage of all the animals covered in oil and destruction to shoreline, it emotionally affected me. I had tears in my eyes.

“This had a really big effect on me and I wanted to do something musical to sort of acknowledge my feelings about it. So I think that night I started working on ideas for the piece. I decided since the actual event had been so huge and devastating, it would have to be a large scale piece. I didn’t have a commission for this, but I thought what the heck I’ll do it for orchestra. That’s lot of work. A labor of love.”

However, the work at the time was “a little too atonal and dissonant,” he said, so orchestras passed on it. He attacked the music again, this time chopping off a major portion and exploring the more melodic parts of the work using harmonies from his jazz sensibilities.

“I was like, Oh my God, this sounds really great,” he said. “It sounds less like 20th century avant garde music and more like film score music.”

He went on Facebook, posted a link to the composition and within 10 minutes got a message from Maestro Confessore.

Mr. Piszczek said that while there are elements of bleakness to his work, there is also hope.

“I was looking for a benediction,” he said. “Mine is more about sorrow and transcending sorrow into hopefulness. In a way the Beethoven is the same.”

SIDE O’ GRITS: The Brevard Symphony Orchestra presents its first concert of the new season at 8 p.m. Saturday at the King Center for the Performing Arts, 3865 N. Wickham Rd., Melbourne. Tickets are $39 to $50, handling charges may apply. Call 321-242-2219 or visit or