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Joseph Peters, conductor and host for the evening, is associate principal oboe and English horn with the NC Symphony. He welcomed the audience saying that, in the future, he looked forward to playing the music as the films were presented.
The evening began with the first movement of Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K.183, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austria, 1756-91). The music, which was used in the 1984 movie Amadeus, was composed when Mozart was 17 and is a good example of the influence of the Sturm und Drang ("Storm and Stress") period in music. Indeed, the music is dramatic, and the NC Symphony grabbed the dark energy in the first measures, bringing out the sparks and fire in the score. Ensemble was tight.
"Music from the Movies" featured the arguably most famous composer of film scores, John Williams (United States, b.1939) arranged by Ted Ricketts (United States, n.d.). The iconic "Harry Potter Theme" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) served as the first movement of an ersatz symphony. Music from A.I. (2001) provided a slow movement and featured wonderfully gentle solo violin, played by Karen Strittmatter Galvin, Associate Concertmaster. The finale was taken from The Patriot (2000) and provided a rousing and patriotic conclusion. The addition of six percussion players and keyboard added color and insistent energy to the string orchestra.
Next up was Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 (1936), (used in Platoon, 1986) by Samuel Barber (United States, 1910-81). I have never met anyone who does not like this piece. It is (or has become) a heart-rending essay in sorrow. It contains one of the great climaxes (not necessarily satisfying) in the literature. NC Symphony's playing was both tender and impassioned by turns.
"Concerning Hobbits" from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) by Howard Shore (Canada, b.1946) immediately evoked a folk feel complete with a tin whistle expressively played by Anne Whaley Laney. The folksiness was augmented by solo violinist Galvin.
The second half began with the gentle Intermezzo from the opera Cavalleria rusticana (1890) (heard in Raging Bull, 1980, and Godfather, Part III, 1990) by Pietro Mascagni (Italy, 1863-1945). This Romantic gem belies the violent nature of the films, where it offered a respite from the drama as the main characters considered their situations. The lovely string sound was augmented by harp unerringly played here and elsewhere by Anita Burroughs-Price.
Bernard Herrmann (United States, 1911-75) wrote music for a number of Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980, England) movies, including Psycho (1960). This music edited by Christopher Palmer, (England, 1946-95) was subsequently arranged into an eleven-movement suite for string orchestra. The NC Symphony played three of the movements. "Prelude" has a quasi-epic theme with scary undercurrents that hint at what is to happen in the course of the film. "The Murder" uses not only the famous "slashing" motive, but also harmonics, which add to the creepiness. "Finale" is gentle, but still contains some troubling elements. The playing was first-rate and caused this listener to shudder.
Michael Giacchino (United States, b.1967) wrote music for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Giacchino carries on the John Williams tradition, but with a personal stamp. In this arrangement by Sean O'Loughlin (United States, b. 1972), a dramatic opening is followed by a relaxed middle section. A return to the opening march rhythm provided a fitting conclusion.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-90) is a legendary American musician known for many things, but certainly at the top of the list must be the music to West Side Story (1961). The concert concluded with one of the most animated scores from the show, the dance number "Mambo." Five percussionists and keyboardist (Suzanne Polak) added to the excitement. I've always enjoyed the place in the score where all the players shout "Mambo" and stomp their feet. The work provided a perfect upbeat ending for the concert.
Special guest Dr. Marsha Gordon, a Film Studies professor at NC State University spoke with Peters after the performance. She pointed out that music has played an integral part of the film experience from the beginning. There was almost always music (even in the silent films) – maybe a piano, or theatre organ (or even orchestra): "without music there is kind of a vacuum." She also provided pertinent comments that provided insights into the films and the music we just heard.
Throughout the concert, the camera work was superb, focusing on the important players, and the great acoustics of the hall were terrifically realized. Peters' conducting was outstanding; he moved easily between the myriad moods and emotions expressed in the scores. The evening provided a revealing overview of the wide range of music under the umbrella of film music. It was pure pleasure taking part in the NC Symphony's "Music from the Movies."