Love and Death

February 14, 2015

“Love and Death”

By W. Gerald Cochran, Hickory, NC

The Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra celebrated Valentine’s Day with the Third Masterworks Concert of their 50th season with a concert mostly about love, but with some death added, more as an afterthought in keeping with the stories of the works presented. Featured guest artists were the Kontras String Quartet, which had been the resident string quartet for the past four seasons.

Opening the program was the lively Overture to the opera Cosi fan tutte, K. 588, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Roughly translated, the title means “Women are like that.” The opera is a story about two men who see if they can get their fiancées to be unfaithful, and which ends happily with a double wedding.

Next on the program was Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) Suite #2 from the Ballet Romeo and Juliet. Of course, this is the story of star-crossed lovers from warring families, who pay the ultimate sacrifice for their love.

Next followed Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner (1833-1883). Wagner composed this piece as a birthday present to his second wife, Cosima, after the birth of their son Siegfried. It was first performed on Christmas morning, December 25, 1870, by a small ensemble on the stairs of their villa in Switzerland. Cosima awoke to its opening melody. Originally written for string quartet, woodwinds, and brass, Wagner had intended to keep this piece private, but later published it due to financial pressures. It is now usually performed with a full chamber orchestra. Tonight’s performance was actually a combination of both, with gorgeous playing by the members of the Kontras Quartet as soloists.

The final work on the program was Symphonic Dances from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). Partnered with choreographer Jerome Robbins, librettist Arthur Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, this is the 20th century adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with basically the same story, only updated to occur in New York, with warring gangs, and death for the protagonist, Tony, although Maria lives.

All four of these pieces gave the entire orchestra a workout. The scores called for multiple string, woodwind, brass, and percussion solos throughout. The solos of the principal flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon were especially notable, and there were many of each. The string sections tonight were tight, nuanced, and lush. They negotiated the many difficult passages with ease and aplomb. Altogether, what was heard all evening were glorious sounds, thanks to the extraordinary talents of each of the orchestra’s members. The next concert, on March 28, 2015, should be just as spectacular.

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