Musical wunderkind revives Brockport symphony

03:01 PM, Dec 03, 2013


Written By Caurie Putnam

If you go

What: Brockport Symphony Orchestra Presents Holiday Pops Concert.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Seymour College Union Ballroom, The College at Brockport.
Cost: $3.
Featuring: Eastman School of Music’s Peter Ferry, marimba; Stephen Jessup, trumpet; Tony Dumas, guitar; Raisa Kislik, violin; Kevin Warner, vocal.

The first time William Hullfish met Jonathan Allentoff, then a high school junior at Pittsford Mendon, he was so impressed he told him not to apply to the College at Brockport.

I could tell right from the start he was a musical genius,” said Hullfish, a retired theater and music studies professor at The College at Brockport. “I told him he would be better off at Juilliard or Eastman.”

But Allentoff, who began playing violin at age 5 and composing music at age 10, had his heart set on Brockport.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Jonathan was smarter than me,” Hullfish says. “There are very few schools in the country he could have come in and started an orchestra as a student and he realized that.”

As soon as Allentoff started his freshman year, he began what started as a one-man effort to resurrect the school’s symphony orchestra, which folded in 2004 after nearly 75 years.

I’ve always been a big picture guy,” says Allentoff, now 22 and a senior. “I saw a lot of potential in Brockport to make music approachable and come alive for future generations.”

Allentoff asked Hullfish to support his efforts as faculty adviser.

I agreed because I didn’t think he’d be able to do it,” Hullfish said. “But he did. I taught at Brockport for 49 years, and Jonathan was absolutely the most outstanding student I ever had.”

The Brockport Symphony Orchestra in 2010, with 12 members, gave its revival concert under Allentoff’s baton. On Thursday, the group, now 70 members strong, will hold its Holiday Pops Concert, which includes the premiere of Hullfish’s “Dashing Through the Snow — Variations on Jingle Bells.”

Many college orchestras limit (membership) to music majors or upperclassmen,” Allentoff says. “I don’t believe in that. Music is for everyone.”

Allentoff’s orchestra, which now has about 70 members, does not hold auditions and is open to students in any major and class year. It is also open to faculty from all fields and to the greater Brockport community. As a result, its members now range from age 18 to 80.

Allentoff also recently started Brockport Youth String Orchestra, composed of string musicians from the Brockport elementary schools. The group will have its debut performance during the symphony orchestra’s Thursday concert.

Tony Dumas, a visiting assistant music professor at Brockport, is one of the soloists for Thursday’s concert.

It’s been a pleasure to work with (Allentoff) on these productions and to watch him develop his own style,” Dumas says. “He’s a young conductor with a discerning ear and tremendous enthusiasm who works tirelessly both on and off stage to produce heartfelt concerts.”

Allentoff also runs other ensembles and gives music lessons on top of his classes. But he’s known mostly around campus for tirelessly promoting the orchestra.

Almost everyone on campus knows him, including all of the students and administrators,” says Natalie Sarrazin, associate music professor. “His talent in arranging orchestral music and securing top-notch soloists for his concerts is legendary.”

Allentoff has gotten some national recognition as well. He recently was chosen to attend the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers Masterclass with David Newman in California and represented Brockport at the College Orchestra Directors Association National Conference in Ohio.

He also recently was able to do some arrangements with Emmy Award-winning composer Van Alexander, who created music for TV shows such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie and films such as Baby Face Nelson.

Allentoff has learned a bit of the business side of music as well. He started Allentoff Music to distribute his compositions and licensed arrangements, including the one with Alexander.

He plans to start pursuing a master’s degree next year at Brockport.

None of this is about me,” Allentoff said. “It’s about sharing what I love with others. There’s no place for ego in music.”