As a fellow at the Tanglewood Institute, Piotr Gajewski wasn't alone in his ambition to begin his own orchestra. Yet unlike most of his peers, Gajewski has translated his dream to reality: Saturday evening the Montgomery Chamber Orchestra will begin its second season under Gajewski, its principal founder, music director and conductor.
Gajewski, 26, singled out the Washington area as the place for a chamber orchestra about 18 months ago. "The audience potential for a professional chamber orchestra in the Washington area is 4,000, maybe more," he says, "and I didn't see any reason why it should be started by anyone other than myself."
So in July 1984, Gajewski and a group of volunteers began knocking on Montgomery County doors seeking financial support. By the end of September, they had the $15,000 they needed. On Oct. 1, they hired a professional executive director, and the race was on for a successful premiere season. The MCO debuted Jan. 26, to good reviews.
As an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Gajewski knew that his career would be as a conductor. He was selected for the Exxon/Arts Endowment Conducting Program as well as the Tanglewood fellowship, and is still in the Exxon pool to be considered for a guest residency with a major orchestra.
But today his attention is focused on the budding chamber orchestra. "The failures of other young orchestras largely stem from the reluctance of their principals to let go of everything else," he says. "A venture like this demands that one wholeheartedly thrust himself into the process. But to do that you almost have to be young and crazy, with few financial or family obligations."
But it takes more than devotion and time to keep the orchestra afloat. It takes money and business know-how as well, Gajewski says.
He says he must carefully blend artistic considerations with budgetary concerns in selecting the pieces to be performed. Since musicians (20 to 30 perform at each concert) are paid a flat fee for a concert whether they perform for five minutes or two hours, Gajewski approaches music selection with a keen eye for financial considerations.
He uses a mixed bag of penny-pinching techniques to cut other costs. The orchestra routinely borrows parts -- the sheet music from which the musicians play -- from the Fleisher Collection of the Philadelphia Library, a free source of material that otherwise would cost several hundred dollars per concert.
Nonetheless, to secure a superb soloist, Gajewski does not hesitate to strain the orchestra's resources. The final concert of this season will feature Santiago Rodriguez, a highly acclaimed pianist and winner of the Silver Medal at the 1981 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
After one successful season, Gajewski feels he has a notion of the audiences' preferences, and he carefully has chosen appropriate soloists and pieces. "I work hard to create a complementary tone within the concerts, and between the various concerts in the season," he says.
"Selecting soloists is terribly difficult -- over 100 musicians approached us for this season, and the number will go up exponentially as the orchestra's reputation spreads," he says. This season's soloists include Hans Roelofsen and Rudolf Senn, double bassists from Holland; violinist Jody Gatwood; bassoonist Carolyn Fedderly; and a duet of French violinist Alexis Galperine and Miles Hoffman on the viola.
Gajewski says he uses a good bit of intuition about the audience.
"Our audience wants to hear music that is familiar to them, either from records, or from past concerts. That is generally true of all audiences," he says. "Yet, the very first time you hear a piece of music can be a marvelous experience -- you can be surprised and delighted. In introducing audiences to new music, I am taking a very careful approach and playing only a few recently written pieces which are written in an idiom which the audience can understand and appreciate. Last year audience reaction to contemporary pieces was very good; they loved them."
As for the future, Gajewski describes the orchestra as "very growth-oriented." In its first season, the orchestra had 230 season subscribers; that number has nearly doubled this year. More than 60 musicians turned out for auditions for 11 openings for the 1985-86 season. Gajewski plans to record all eight of this season's concerts for delayed broadcast on WGMS-FM. In addition, he hopes to begin recording with the orchestra within three or four years.
The favorable response to the orchestra has helped financial matters as well. "Ticket sales don't go very far in funding a concert," admits Gajewski. Corporate sponsorship has been a lifeline for the MCO; the opening concert is being funded by a generous grant from COMSAT. MCO also received a Maryland Arts Council grant that will provide partial funding for a free concert for children.
The orchestra performs in the Red Auditorium at the National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg, but Gajewski hopes soon to perform elsewhere as well.
"My personal goal for the future is to begin playing the concerts twice, and eventually three times, so that we can play for different audiences throughout the metropolitan area," Gajewski says. "I hope this year we will be selling out the hall, and if it happens, there is no reason why we shouldn't plan to repeat concerts next season."
Saturday evening's season opener will feature soloist Ralph Our in Haydn's Trumpet Concerto. The program will include Rossini's overture to "L'Italiana in Algeri," Stravinsky's Danses Concertantes, and Symphony No. 35 by Mozart. For ticket information, contact the Montgomery Chamber Orchestra, 301-926-1606.