The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Joiner, Music Director, presented the final concert of their thirty-fifth season in the Hendersonville High School auditorium.  The HSO was joined by Charlie Flynn-McIver, Artistic Director of the North Carolina Stage Company. Flynn-McIver added vocal readings from the Shakespeare work associated with each musical selection.

It was nice to be in the acoustically interesting HHS auditorium again, where the acoustics are dry but very clear. This age of “we need a new concert hall” has certainly joined the “there is no hall but the Mill Center” (a paper plan to convert idle property into a downtown arts facility, but doesn’t yet exist) and the “all the other halls are no good” camp (which just isn’t so), making it fashionable (if malicious) to speak ill of the HHS auditorium.

It is sadly and shamefully true that this relatively recently-renovated hall (in common with most other government buildings) gets no loving care from the school system. The modern light fixtures are nasty, filled, it would seem, with dead bugs. One of the house lights under the balcony had a randomly-flashing fluorescent tube, the clear symptom of no maintenance. And the switch controlling the whole series of under-balcony lights is defective, causing the lights to waver and flicker as if in the gaslight era. Judging from the number of nervously jerking heads I saw, quite a lot of people were concerned about this. And a cell phone will be just as obnoxious in any hall as it gets louder and louder while its owner looks around as if to ask, “Who has that rude thing?” In tonight’s case, the contemptible owner knew it was her phone, fished in her purse, and made it stop ringing. Then it rang again when she turned it off! Paraphrasing Shakespeare, “The devil’s spirit lurks close above her head, waiting for her to join him.” And that same devil chose someone’s beeping wristwatch as a tocsin to summon the offender to his presence.

The stage was full with orchestra, totally full to the back wall. I would estimate the house at about 90%. It was nice to see so many young people both in the house and in the orchestra; they are the hope of tomorrow’s orchestras and concert-goers alike. Mamas, if you let your children grow up to be cowboys (and -girls), at least make sure they can play viola or bassoon as well.

Tonight’s theme was “Shakespeare In Love.” Maestro Joiner managed to pull this off without a single bar of Mendelssohn. There was Beethoven’s Overture to Coriolanus, Sir William Walton’s music for Laurence Olivier’s 1934 film of Henry V, and Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from West Side Story, arranged and orchestrated by the composer. Flynn-McIver chose texts from Shakespeare (even for West Side Story) to enhance the music.

The crashing opening to the Beethoven was strong and splendid. The orchestra excelled itself all the way to the end in what may have been, ironically, the easiest music of the evening.

To show the clear relationship between the music and the plays, Flynn-McIver chose and read beautifully many beautiful passages, although I question his “War-wick” versus the customary “Warrick.”

Walton caught the spirit of the age precisely by not trying to compose Renaissance music. Nevertheless the verve and spirit of the Bard’s age were there, both in the composing and in the playing. Walton’s Overture well caught the spirit of some English Praetorius, writing his own personal Terpsichore. The flowing, steady bass of the theme marched repeated through the theme of the “Passacaglia: Death of Falstaff.” Before the “Charge and Battle,” Flynn-McIver read a very impassioned Chrispian’s Day excerpt. Again Walton avoided using the obvious standard military drumbeat, well documented from the era. “Touch Her Soft Lips And Part” had the perfect movie-music shimmery legato. Walton threaded the good solid “Agincourt Carol” very skillfully into “Agincourt Song.”

After intermission the evening closed with Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances.” It all seems a little pompous compared to the theatre arrangements we’ve heard so many times. This may be some of the most difficult music around. The orchestra members acquitted themselves with great aplomb. The hackneyed musician’s insult, “It sounds like you’ve practiced it a lot,” certainly does not apply to the complex rhythms of West Side Story. They must be practiced a lot in order to seem as unrehearsed and yet precise as in this performance.

The strings had some trouble staying together in the pizzicato Maria’s theme in “Somewhere,” but the audience, mostly old enough to have heard WSS on stage, liked this part a lot; there was the dearest quivery sing-along behind me.

Thanks to Fletcher BMW for a generous donation. And let us now praise famous men and keep green the memory of the late George W. Phillips. The guest artist fund which he established made possible Flynn-McIver’s appearance.