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When performing arts organizations like the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra began to explore ways to safely bring live music to their patrons, performances have become undeniably more accessible. Not just financially, although supportive grants have made it possible for some organizations to offer free or reduced-price tickets; live-streaming concerts can transcend the normal boundaries of distance and time, making it possible for one to access a concert in Raleigh, for example, from anywhere. Sure, there is no exact replica for viewing live music in person (yet), but in my experience so far, the quality of music in these online concerts has not been diminished one bit.
The RSO's project, titled "Winter Reverie Sessions," aims to make their music even more accessible – viewing the program's six pieces no longer requires an hour of uninterrupted time. Instead, the RSO has been promoting separate videos of each piece over a six-week period, with insightful program notes for each posted in tandem on the RSO website and on Facebook. The videos, ranging from about 3 minutes to 7 minutes each, have been posted on Wednesdays, although all six performance videos are available now on YouTube for those who would rather watch all at once. To further this new concert experience even more, the RSO has also been posting a weekly spotlight of its Winter Reverie musicians, focusing on a different section each Sunday. This new format makes it easier than ever for even the busiest among us to enjoy local orchestral music!
Now, for the music – the program's six pieces formed a 50/50 split of well-known and perhaps lesser-known composers. Played by a small ensemble of string and keyboard players, each musical offering was selected for its evocation of "the quiet contemplation of a cold winter's day" (from the RSO's Facebook page). Mozart's Overture to his first opera, Apollo and Hyacinthus evoked a sense of snow flurries at times, but with uniform articulation across the ensemble. It was a pleasant and soothing first choice, conducted smoothly by RSO's music director, Jim Waddelow. Gabriel de Souza Alencar's "Ceu e Nuvens" (Portuguese for "sky and clouds") was next: a beautiful, sustained chordal piece with drawn-out suspensions that gradually heightened the emotion. The four-minute work sustained a carefully-controlled crescendo overall, and its tone clusters were beautifully tuned by the RSO's string players.
Continuing the themes of nature and solitary observation, Norwegian composer Ole Bull's "Solitude sur la montagne" ("Solitude on the Mountain") is decidedly more lyrical than the previous piece, with a gorgeous melody carried high in the violins from the beginning. The 1849 composition contains only a handful of rests in the languid texture, making it a natural choice for the meditative program.
The program's earliest work is Scarlatti's Symphony No. 1 in A, a stately duet between active high strings and sturdy cellos, basses, and harpsichord to support the flowing melody above. This duality was carefully balanced by the RSO musicians, and was not lessened by the video format.
Contemporary Dutch composer Kees Schoonenbeek's "Ambient Music I" would undoubtedly be a perfect backdrop for drone footage flying over pine tree and snow-covered mountains – can you imagine it? This lush performance by the RSO's strings and piano was haunting and pensive, and certainly spurred the mind to picturesque winter imaginings. Again, the strings maintained pulsing, sustained chords, underneath minor arpeggio-based musings in the piano, flowing together beautifully.
Composed for a British propaganda film in 1940, Ralph Vaughan Williams' Prelude to 49th Parallel is stirring and heartfelt, rising above its more nationalistic origins. In equal measure, each section of the RSO's ensemble built a lovely crescendo together over the course of the short piece, united by Waddelow's sweeping gestures.
For part one of this pair of articles, click here.