On the Road Again

“On the Road Again”

October 3, 2015

By W. Gerald Cochran

Hickory, NC

Western Piedmont Symphony Masterworks Concert I

The Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro John Gordon Ross, began its second half-century with a concert featuring works reminiscent of various lands in P. E. Monroe Auditorium of Lenoir-Rhyne University. The orchestra also welcomed the Tesla Quartet, Michelle Lie and Ross Snyder, violins, Edwin Kaplan, viola, and Serafim Smigelskiy, cello, as its new String Quartet in Residence.

The program opened with Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). This is a fantasy for orchestra inspired by a trip Tchaikovsky took to Rome and where he saw the Carnival in progress and used Italian folk and street songs as themes for this piece. Although Tchaikovsky later expressed doubts about its musical substance, it has been a popular work. It does place great demands on all of the sections of the orchestra: the brass, percussion, woodwinds, and strings, which all played with great energy and verve.

Continuing the travel theme, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) Songs of Travel was then performed, featuring Adrian Smith, Bass-Baritone. This is a group of ten songs taken from Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems of the same name. Originally written for voice and piano, they were later orchestrated by Vaughan Williams and one of his students, Roy O. Douglas.

Mr. Smith is a native of Hickory, NC, and holds degrees form Lenoir-Rhine University and Boston University. He has had extensive opera and concert experience. He has a full and rich voice, and sang Vaughan Williams’ songs with great beauty and feeling.

Although William G. Harbinson (born 1953), who composed Of Fire and Ice, says that the composition has no programmatic theme, the music certainly could be interpreted as alluding to a place such as Iceland. Dr. Harbinson has been on the music faculty of Appalachian State University for many years, also serving as dean of the School of Music for a number of years. The piece opens with a fiery section, has a slower and more tonal middle section, and returns to great bombast for the finale, incorporating many jazz elements throughout. It reminded me of a film score, to which Dr. Harbinson replied that it had done its job of expressing drama and emotion. The great demands placed on the brass, percussion, and woodwinds were met with ease and aplomb.

The program finale takes us to Spain for Capriccio Espagnol by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). Rimsky had often visited Spain as a Russia Naval officer, and used a number of Spanish themes for this caprice. It seems that this piece has a solo for just about everybody, and all of the soloists played their parts with great expertise and beauty. Lest I miss someone, I will forgo naming them individually, but there were wonderful sounds coming from all directions. There are some lush string sections to the piece, and the strings played with great depth and cohesion. The woodwinds, brass, and percussion, also got a great workout, and their supreme efforts paid off splendidly, for an exciting close to the start of a great season. There are still many more concerts to come in this, the Western Piedmont Symphony’s fifty-first season. Don’t miss a one.

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