MU music professor returns to Panama

MANSFIELD – Kenneth Sarch, professor of violin and viola and conductor of the String Chamber Orchestra at Mansfield University, is in Panama, invited by the Asociacion Nacional de Conciertos to conduct the National Youth Orchestra in a two-week music camp culminating in a series of five concerts in cities and towns throughout the country.

Accompanied by his 12-year-old son, Daniel, Sarch arrived in Panama on Jan. 16. Daniel will play trumpet in a younger orchestra his father will conduct.

Sarch first began conducting in Panama at the invitation and sponsorship of the U.S. State Department several years ago and is now making his 10th visit to the country. In 2010, he was invited to serve as guest conductor to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Youth Orchestra being founded.

“I feel like family in Panama and I love making music with these talented and friendly people,” Sarch said. “I keep in touch with the students in the orchestra through Facebook and everyone is excited about the orchestra. It is so rewarding to learn that 65 percent of the Panama National Symphony today are musicians who had played in the orchestra program that I directed.”

The program Sarch will conduct included the Tchaikovsky “Symphony No. 2 Little Russian,” “Britten Matinees Musicales,” a Duke Ellington medley and a work that Sarch has orchestrated for the Panama orchestra, “Cumbia Y Congos,” based on Panamanian folk music.

Working with Sarch in Panama are six music students from the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio who played and assisted with coaching sectionals along with a number of Panamanian and Costa Rican music teachers. Oberlin has been sending a group of students to Panama for more than 25 years as their special music project.

In August, Sarch will return to Latin America, this time traveling back to Bolivia to serve as guest conductor to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the symphony orchestra he started. The orchestra will perform in a gala series of concerts sponsored by the U.S. Embassy.

In 2003, Sarch spent six months in Bolivia as a Fulbright Scholar and formed the Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil de Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s second largest city.

Overcoming a number of obstacles – such as not having certain instruments and players, a music program that sent players to help out at first, then withdrawing them after the first concert to prepare their own concert and finding funds – the debut concert was a huge success, making front page headlines in the city newspaper.

“We performed the Mozart Symphony 35 Haffner and received great press and TV coverage,” Sarch said. “I was addressed as ‘maestro,’ which was really terrific for my ego until I found out that bus and taxi drivers are also addressed as ‘maestro.’ “