Sinfonietta reflects on decade of classical symphony

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Holly Makin found out a classical music ensemble was forming in Riverdale in the most unlikely of places — a nursery school. 

At the time Makin and Mark Mandarano each had their child enrolled in the same school. It wasn’t long before Makin was intrigued and attended a concert of what would become The Sinfonietta of Riverdale — a group she eventually found herself as the secretary, while Mandarano would become the artistic director and conductor.  

“I went to the first concert and I was so impressed by the musicians, by the music,” Makin said, “So I just volunteered my services.”

These days, Makin is president of Sinfonietta’s board where she’s responsible for publicizing upcoming concerts.

The Sinfonietta itself is an ensemble of world-class musicians who go on tour, play venues in New York City, and make their way up to Riverdale. A few composers — like Oliver Caplan and Chris Byars — also happen to be Riverdale residents who have made their mark on the group. 

The ensemble performs three concerts a year during the fall, winter and spring at places like The Riverdale Temple, Christ Church Riverdale and Wave Hill.

In fact, it’s Christ Church where the group will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a concert at 8 p.m., with tickets ranging in price from $15 to $35. It will feature opera soprano Ilana Davidson, featuring music from 19th century Austrian composer Gustav Mahler and Aaron Jay Kernis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer.

Sinfonietta’s journey began when Mandarano and his wife moved to Riverdale in 2003. He was traveling for concerts in California, Texas, Russia and Germany, but realized something was missing in his own community.

“Each time I returned home, I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to bring some fabulous musicians together to make some music right here?’” Mandarano said.

With a network of them at his disposal, Mandarano reached out to some who might be interested in joining the Sinfonietta of Riverdale. The rest is history.

Critically acclaimed composers are no strangers to the Sinfonietta. Contemporary composers often attend concerts to hear their music being performed. Even Alan Gilbert, former music director of The New York Philharmonic, has made his way up to Riverdale.

“I think that’s a unique aspect of the Sinfonietta,” Makin said. “If Mark can get the composer, if the composer is available to come, they are invited to come and say a few words to the audience.”

The Sinfonietta isn’t the only classical game in town with groups like piano trio di.vi.sion and The Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale’s chamber music group Intimate Voices. Yet Makin notes the musicians who make up the Sinfonietta create an ensemble that’s important to them. 

“For them, it’s really interesting and (an) enjoyable experience to come together up here to be part of the outreach (in) an area where there isn’t quite so much orchestral involvement and actually perform together,” Makin said. 

Over the last decade, there have been few challenges standing in the way of success for the group. For Mandarano, it was learning how to do things like file legal documents, figure out venues for performances, and decide what type of music the Sinfonietta would perform during a concert.

But for Makin, it’s been about securing arts funding from various sources like local businesses, politicians and the city’s department of cultural affairs.

“I think it’s also a challenge to initially establish yourself,” Makin said. “So we’re thrilled we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary, but you have to work hard to get the word out there.”

Glancing ahead to the next 10 years, Makin looks forward to reaching out to new people both inside and outside the community 

“It’s impressive when you look back and you see just how many concerts have been performed within our community,” Makin said. “We just hope to do more of that in the next 10 years.”

Meanwhile, Mandarano looks to expand the group to include chamber opera performances, increasing outreach in the Bronx, and even “nurturing Bronx composers with a workshop.” 

For him, it’s important to bring classical music to Riverdale, and everywhere else.

“Quite simply, it’s important to bring great art and culture everywhere,” Mandarano said. “Creating a bond between art and community strengthens all of us.”

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