‘I’m compelled to do what I do’: 75-year-old set to conduct 9/11 memorial concert series
Set to Wolfgang Mozart’s choral masterpiece Requiem, James Rawie churns his mountain bike along Tunnel Creek Trail in Incline Village.
The 75-year-old is absorbed in the music, visualizing leading an orchestra through the piece’s movements as he pedals along the dirt trail. It’s a familiar intersection of two of Rawie’s passions and ones that have come to define a lifetime.
Growing up playing sports and the son of a concert pianist, music and athletics have always been part of Rawie’s life.
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice over it,” said Rawie. “I’m compelled to do what I do.”
After earning a Master of Musical Arts degree from Stony Brook University in New York, Rawie found himself living in Puerto Rico where in 1979 he founded the Symphonic Chorus of Puerto Rico and Sinfonia-Puerto Rico Chamber Orchestra.
“They didn’t have anything like that in Puerto Rico,” said Rawie on performing classical music on the island. “Salsa and maranga were the only things that made money. I had to start from scratch. There’s always musicians and there’s always singers, but they just didn’t have anybody to coordinate.”
Puerto Rico is also where he discovered a passion for triathlons. Rawie grew up around football and rugby, but with little opportunity to participate in those sports in Puerto Rico, he began swimming, running, and cycling.
Then after three decades of living and working in Puerto Rico, Rawie and his wife Nancy decided a change was in order. Following a search of different locations in California, the couple became sold on Lake Tahoe as a perfect setting for retirement — or so it was supposed to be.
“Retirement didn’t last long,” laughed Rawie. “I could see there were a lot of musicians and singers here that didn’t have a classical orchestra to perform with.”
And so, like he did in Puerto Rico, Rawie slowly began cobbling musicians and singers together, and in 2005, launched The Orchestra and Community Choral Artists of the Tahoe Area.
Through word of mouth, the nonprofit organization began growing, and attracting larger audiences to the handful of concerts series it puts on each year. Recently, the group has toured in Europe and in 2019 had their most successful year, according to Rawie, drawing its largest crowds ever at events around the Reno-Tahoe area. Then the pandemic hit.
“It worked,” he said. “We managed to stay viable. We were some of the few that were gutsy enough to perform something.”
Without audiences and venues to perform at, many choirs and orchestras folded, but Rawie found a way to keep the Orchestra and Community Choral Artists of the Tahoe Area afloat by performing private concerts for small crowds.
With restrictions now lifted, Rawie is again conducting symphonies for audiences across the area. While he said outdoor concerts have attracted large crowds, filling indoor venues has been a bit trickier, something he attributes to classical music fans tending to be older and more wary of COVID-19.
“Our performers are back in full force but the audience, for indoor concerts, has been surprisingly smaller,” he said.
The easing of restrictions has also let Rawie get back to his other favorite activity. On Aug. 21, he entered the XTERRA Lake Tahoe off-road triathlon as the oldest competitor in the field. Chuckling as he passed much younger racers along the way, Rawie topped more than 30 other athletes to finish last month’s triathlon in 4 hours, 58 minutes, 48 seconds to win his age group.
“It might be the tortoise and the hare effect, but the turtle is still running,” he joked.
The finish qualified Rawie for next month’s XTERRA World Championships in Italy. Rawie said plans are to make the trip, which will coincide with members of his orchestra also traveling to Europe for a series of concerts.
“I have a shot at being world champion of old men,” joked Rawie.
With concerts and competitions on the horizon, the 75-year-old is still going strong as he makes use of training sessions for triathlons as a means of preparing for performances.
“I’m studying the whole time I’m riding my bike or running,” said Rawie. “You can’t study much when you’re swimming. You have to pay attention. You can’t have a tempo of a Beethoven symphony going on while you’re trying to keep a cadence going at 120 strokes per minute.”
The Orchestra and Community Choral Artists of the Tahoe Area is set to close out its summer music series with four concerts in memory of 9/11. The first concert will be in Minden on Friday. Another performance will be held Sunday at the Cornerstone Community Church in Incline. The organization will then head to Reno on Friday, Sept. 16 for another remembrance concert. A final performance, which will be dedicated to firefighters and first responders, will be in South Tahoe on Sunday, Sept. 18 at St. Theresa Catholic Church.
Tickets for the concerts are available at the door or online at http://www.ToccataTahoe.com. General admission tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors. Youth and students under the age of 23 are free.
For more information visit http://www.ToccataTahoe.org or call (775) 298-6989.
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