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The Erie Chamber Orchestra’s Bruce Morton Wright Memorial Concert

Those of you you who regularly read the Erie Times’ ShowCase entertainment tab may have noticed that this week’s edition was a bit thin, coming in at 28 pages rather than the customary 32. That had the consequence of having to cancel previews that were scheduled to run.

One of them was for the Erie Chamber Orchestra’s memorial concert that took place last evening. Often, material that for one reason or another did not run in the print edition is published on, and I waited for that to happen yesterday. The preview was commissioned by the Times and they will pay me for writing it, so I had to give them the option to publish it first.

Because they declined, and because I both like what I wrote and believe strongly in the mission of the orchestra, I want to publish it here, late though it may be.

I should add that I attended most of the concert last evening until a family obligation intervened and I will write about that, perhaps later today. For now, though, here is the preview that was to have run on Thursday:

Musicians with the charisma, heart and musicality of Bruce Morton Wright are irreplaceable.

But Wright, who succumbed to multiple myeloma on July 29, was more than just the conductor of the Erie Chamber Orchestra. He was also the orchestra’s personnel manager, music librarian, publicist and executive director of the orchestra. Just about the only thing he didn’t do was sell tickets, and he would have done that but for the fact that every concert in the orchestra’s 31-year history was free of charge.

It was probably inevitable that questions about the orchestra’s future would arise, not the least of which was: Will they ever play again?

Thankfully, that question will be answered tomorrow evening, and in the most joyous manner when the Erie Chamber Orchestra assembles in the familiar setting of St. Patrick’s Church to play a program of pieces that could have come from the Wright family album: Mozart, Leroy Anderson, Sibelius, Gershwin and Haydn.

Arthur Martone, who had been the orchestra’s assistant conductor for years, will be on the podium, surely a bittersweet assignment for this conscientious and patient musician. Fr. Sean Clerkin will act as the evening’s MC, sharing reminiscences by orchestra members and introducing a tribute video. He will also say a bit about the International Myeloma Foundation, the beneficiary of the free-will offering that concert goers will be asked to make.

Still, the most welcome sound of the evening may well come from Susan Spafford, the Erie-born violinist who has agreed to serve as the orchestra’s interim executive director. Spafford, who took Suzuki-method violin lessons with her friend, Nina Wright and often practiced with her while Nina’s musical father looked on, has been planning for the future.

“We will be doing a season from January to June, and we’re working on getting soloists and venues,” she told me by phone from her home in New Jersey. “We will continue the Martin Luther King Day tradition, and we’re hoping to do some programming that would make [Wright] proud.” She promises, “some pieces that Bruce had hoped to play this season,” as well as a continuation of the tradition of featuring an orchestra member as soloist.

Perhaps most heartening is the news that the orchestra will conduct a search for a new conductor.

Whoever is chosen will be Wright’s successor. But not his replacement. Some musicians are irreplaceable.