“The Call” was the pervasive theme of the Western Piedmont Symphony‘s third masterworks concert of the 2010-2011 season, presented in P.E. Monroe Auditorium on the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University. The centerpiece of the concert was a new work by Meira Warshauer (born 1949), Tekeeyah (The Call). Warshauer lives in Columbia, SC and is currently the Nancy A. Smith Distinguished Visitor in Residence at Coastal Carolina University. She has devoted much of her output to Jewish themes and their universal message. Her work also reflects her love and concern for the earth.

Tekeeyah (The Call) is the first concerto ever written for shofar and trombone soloist and orchestra and was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras that includes the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, Brevard Philharmonic, University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra, and the Western Piedmont Symphony. The featured soloist was Haim Avitsur, who played both instruments. Mr. Avitsur has appeared with the Western Piedmont Symphony on two previous occasions. He is currently Trombone Professor at West Chester University School of Music in Pennsylvania. A shofar is a horn, usually that of a ram, that is used in Jewish religious services, primarily the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The composer has written this about the piece, “I believe this is a time which calls for awakening to our true essence as human beings. Our planet needs us, and we need each other, to care for and heal our suffering world. The shofar, with its natural power and centuries of service in calling Jews to awaken, can be an important instrument in this collective renewal of purpose.”

The work begins with soft string sounds and air blown through the brass and winds, including the shofar. These sounds are likened to “the whisperings of God from above.” Eventually, the shofar sounds quietly, and, as the work progresses, the music becomes louder and more urgent, and the shofar plays music used in the Jewish rituals. In the middle section, the shofar and trombone alternate playing, and both blend beautifully with the brass and the entire orchestra. Toward the end, it is the shofar that is the lone soloist, sounding loud and clear.

It is without question that Mr. Avitsur is an extremely accomplished trombonist. That he can coax tonal sounds and beautiful music out of a ram’s horn is truly virtuosic and astounding. And, all of the sections of the orchestra, strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, were equally adept.

Opening the concert was Overture to Oberon, J. 306, by Carl Maria von Weber (1796-1826). The piece opens with a horn call which possesses magical powers, and progresses to a massive march in the finale, all thrillingly performed by the orchestra.

The second half of the program consisted of Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). The first movement opens with a trumpet fanfare, another call, this time to “Fate,” as Tchaikovsky described it. This fanfare is repeated three times throughout the movement and returns again in the final movement. The second movement is introduced by a melancholy oboe melody played sumptuously by Anna Morris, Principal Oboe. In the third, scherzo, movement, the strings play pizzicato (plucking the strings) in the entire movement, and are later joined by the woodwinds and the brass, performed in a most colorful and wonderful manner. The finale is a grand and bombastic movement based on the folk song “There Stood the Little Birch” which calls for all of the symphonic forces to provide their maximum effort, which was seemingly easily accomplished in this performance.

I can not say enough about how this orchestra seems to be improving with each performance; this concert certainly required tremendous effort and skill of each player.