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Orchestral Music Review Print

Western Piedmont Symphony Masterworks II: From New York to the New World

November 4, 2006 - Hickory, NC:

The Western Piedmont Symphony presented the second of its Masterworks concerts of the 2006-2007 season at First Baptist Church. The Kailas String Quartet (Jory Fankuche and Stephanie Fong, violins, John T. Posadas, viola, and Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron, cello) occupied the principal string chairs for this concert..

The program opened with "Voices Shouting Out" by Nkeiru Okoye (b.1972), with the composer conducting. Dr. Okoye is a native of New York who specializes in writing music for multicultural audiences, and is notable for her accessible style. "Voices Shouting Out" was written in response to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. In three sections, the beginning and end are wildly percussive and energetic while the middle section is sweet and tender like a love song or an elegy. The orchestra responded to the composer's direction with great enthusiasm and vigor, and the audience response to the work was overwhelming. This was the 24th performance of the piece; the 25th will be in January 2007 by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Pianist Roy Eaton, soloist for the Piano Concerto in G of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), has had a long and varied career. His concert career, which began in 1937 with a Carnegie Hall performance, was interrupted by a thirty-year stint in the advertising business, to be resumed again only in 1986.

Ravel completed the G Major Piano Concerto in 1931 while in Paris. A self-described neo-classicist, Ravel idolized Mozart and he blended the eighteenth century form with twentieth century impressionistic elements. What resulted were first and last movements infused with exciting jazz melodies and idioms that could have been American, and at the same time retained classical elements. The beautiful and contemplative second movement showcased the impressionist Ravel, as inspired by Mozart, and is one of the most sublime pieces of music the twentieth century produced. The movement ends with the piano taking a secondary role to a plaintive English horn solo, stunningly performed by Jennifer Roberts. Eaton proved a thoughtful and virtuoso interpreter of the concerto, and the orchestra was an excellent collaborator adding to the excitement of the work, especially in the outer movements.

The Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World"), by Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904), has become one of the most treasured and popular pieces throughout the world. Dvorák, a native of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) wrote his last symphony in 1893, while he was head of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. He did not use actual Native American or African American tunes in the symphony, as some have claimed, but wrote original themes based on the characteristics of these melodies. Regardless of the source or influence of the music, this symphony represents an important part of both American and Czech music history. For the Czech people it is a masterpiece that transcends cultural and geographic boundaries. In America it awakened a movement toward nationalism and inspired the use of American musical elements in composition.

The Western Piedmont Symphony was up to the task of performing this demanding and exalted work. This was, by far, the finest ensemble playing I have heard from this group in quite a while. The symphony gives the principal wind players, who handled their tasks with great proficiency, a workout. Of special note, was the beautiful playing of the English horn solo in the Largo movement by Jennifer Roberts, her second major solo and her second triumph of the concert.

Music Director John Gordon Ross and the Western Piedmont Symphony are to be congratulated on an exciting and well-performed concert.