STORY: Leigh Neely // PHOTOS: Fred Lopez
If you watch Maestro Pasquale Valerio’s face while he is conducting The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra, it is the picture of concentration. It’s his body that conveys his expressions of love for the music. With the guidance of his baton, Pasquale brings out the best in his musicians. And not only does the audience love the music, the musicians love the maestro.
Pasquale, one of the founders of the orchestra in The Villages, says being maestro is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. He and his wife Frances came to Florida for their honeymoon in 1991. Although Frances is American, Pasquale was born in Naples, Italy. However, he soon fell in love with Florida’s lush beauty, and they extended their honeymoon for six months.
During that time, Pasquale met the venerable Oscar Feliu from The Villages, and they became fast friends. Before long, Pasquale discovered they shared a desire to start a philharmonic orchestra. “We talked for a very long time before we took action,” Pasquale says. “While we go back to Italy and I play at the opera house, I knew my wife wanted to live in America; therefore, I said Florida will be our place.”
When he and his family relocated to America in 1996, Pasquale was ready to take bold steps. After years of planning and work, the first concert performed by The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra was at Church on the Square in January 2004. The Villages Chorale was the next project, and the 60-member group, made up entirely of full-time and seasonal residents, is the perfect complement for the orchestra.
Fran Pagliarulo is on the board of directors and sings in the chorale.
“I’ve sung with a lot of symphony orchestras and I always enjoy it. Pasquale and I have become very good friends,” Fran says. “He’s a genius as far as the music goes, and he asked me to help him learn more about the business end of things.”
Under the direction of Pasquale, the chorale performed the difficult but inspiring “Messa di Gloria” by Giacomo Puccini. “It is like an opera, intensive and very challenging,” Pasquale says. “We do fantastic music.”
Villages couple Howard and Ann Westin offer a unique perspective on the symphony because Howard is a musician.
“When we visited here, we met Pasquale, Frances, and Oscar at Italian Night at Katie Belle’s. After their performance, Howard talked to Pasquale because he was so impressed,” Ann says. “He thinks Pasquale is a genius. As soon as we made the permanent move, Howard joined the orchestra.”
Howard played first violin until carpal tunnel forced him to retire. “I loved playing under the baton of Pasquale Valerio,” he says. “He is deeply into his music and well in touch with the composer, mediating the spirit of the music we’re playing. We have a qualitative orchestra comparable to larger cities and communities because of him.”
Seeing Howard’s concern for the needs of the musicians, Ann says, “We needed to form a guild and of course, I got the job. We started with a small group of dedicated women. Now we have men working with us, too.”
The guild now presents an annual dinner concert called “An Affair to Remember,” which includes a silent auction. “It’s a black tie event that always sells out,” Ann explains. “Next year’s dinner will be on March 13.”
The affection board members feel for Pasquale matches the maestro’s appreciation of them. “My board of directors is a unique team. It’s like when you put the fingers of your hands together, and it becomes one hand,” Pasquale says. “Everybody is dedicated and supportive.”
Current president of the board Margaret (Maggie) Dick remembers visiting The Villages and seeing an ad for a concert. Her expectations, she says, were low.
“I’m from Philadelphia and I love classical music, but I was in tears halfway into the program,” she remembers. “I knew I could live here and be happy in this place because I got so emotional. There is nothing like a live performance.”
Seeing behind the scenes has continued to inspire Maggie, too. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching rehearsal and it’s very interesting. Everything Pasquale does is with a love for the music. He has such respect for it and for the players who achieve what the music needs.”
Before Church on the Square became an arts center, Pasquale was music director there for eight years. Now the orchestra has outgrown that venue and concerts this season will be at Savannah Center, allowing more seating and more concert dates.
Steve Gustafson, the newest member of the board of directors, says an evening with the symphony is a wonderful night out for him. “The quality of the guest musicians is superb because Pasquale is able to get those of a higher quality. They’re always so gracious, and they do it because of their friendship with him.”
The other passion that burns in Pasquale is his desire to teach. “Since day one I have had youth volunteering to study with me every Saturday. They drive from Orlando. I teach music appreciation, music theory, and ensemble — they play together. I have volunteers from the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra come here to teach once a month. You will see on the stage students performing on a professional level.”
Pasquale is convinced that the love of classical music will never die. “Visit the world of music on an educational level and you will always find a teacher who wants to teach music to children.”
And the maestro is dedicated to doing his part.
“At our opening concert we will have a guest pianist, Giuseppe Mentuccia, who came to us as a student for the first time in 2007. He was only 18 and had already graduated from the conservatory in Rome. I strongly believed he had a natural talent. I told him to stop in New York and audition at Julliard. They gave him a full scholarship to get his master’s degree. They didn’t want to lose him, so they gave a full scholarship to complete his doctorate. He was a gift for me — a child I’ve known since he was 15 in Rome, Italy. His father was my friend since I was a teenager. We played together as professional musicians.”
The music continues at home for Pasquale with his family. His wife sings, his 20-year-old son David is in a vocal studies program, and his 18-year-old daughter Caroline Lucia surprised the family by singing in a recent program.
“I have never pushed my children into music, but they both love it. My son is studying voice. My daughter sang at an international meeting in Prague, and she never showed me she could sing.”
And so the love of music passes on to the next generation, as Maestro Pasquale knows it will for many generations to come.
The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra
2013–2014 Season Schedule
Sunday, Oct. 12, 2013 (Series)
Mendelsohn Symphony No. 4 “Italian”
Giuseppe Mentuccia, Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2
Tuesday–Wednesday, Nov. 26-27, 2013
G.F. Handel “The Messiah”
The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale
Tuesday–Wednesday, Jan. 21-22, 2014 (Series)
Dvorjak “New World Symphony”
Luca Blasio, Violin
Tuesday–Wednesday, Feb. 18-19, 2014 — Pops Concert
Movie Sound Tracks
Tuesday–Wednesday, March 25-26, 2014 (Series)
Brahms Symphony No. 1
Francesca Leonardi, Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5
Monday–Tuesday, April 14-15, 2014 (Series)
Puccini Messa di Gloria
The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale
Tuesday, May 13, 2014 — Opera Gala
Numerous Opera Scenes
Orlando Opera Singers with The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra
To learn more about The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale, visit their website at www.VillagesPhilharmonic.org