Orchestral Music Review Print



Neilson & Raleigh Symphony on Target with Tribute to Longtime RSO Friend

October 23, 2005 - Raleigh, NC:


On a beautiful Sunday afternoon with the temperature in the low 70s and almost everyone in Wake and surrounding counties trying to get in to the last day of the NC State Fair, the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra set about performing "Musical Expressions" – selections by a variety of classical composers in memory of longtime friend Frosty Clark. The October 23 concert began at three o'clock with "The Star Spangled Banner," which Frosty would have loved. He was, as long as I knew him, a sincere and proud patriot.

The program proceeded with Aaron Copland's loving tribute to folk life in America, Appalachian Spring. Intimate and delicate music paints a tale of love and simple joys in rural life. The strings of the orchestra produced a wondrous warm sound, around which the string principals and woodwinds wove a needlepoint as charming and memorable as those that decorated kitchens and parlors in early America. The expressiveness of the music was realized delightfully in both robust and tender passages, skillfully prepared and led by Maestro Alan Neilson.

Neilson provided a brief but thorough explanation of an atonal experiment of the unique insurance agent from Danbury, Connecticut, Charles Ives. "The Unanswered Question," composed in 1904 when Ives was thirty, asks why music needs tonality. The solo trumpet asks the question over soft strings, the woodwinds attempt an answer, debate the issue, argue over it and in the end leave the question still unanswered. Ives wrote the piece in two different time signatures – one for the strings and trumpet and another for the woodwinds; this is one of many techniques in composition he experimented with over his long, intriguing, and productive life. Assistant conductor Jaemi Loeb led the strings and the solo trumpet, and Neilson led the woodwinds. It is a fascinating dialogue that was quite well done by the RSO ensemble.

Principal Flutist Patty Angevine performed Bernard Rogers' "Soliloquy" with the orchestra conducted by Neilson. It is a quiet piece, as the title suggests, with a touch of modernism in the harmonies, but it is lyrical and sweet enough to satisfy most any music lover. Angevine's mastery of her instrument made difficult passages sound easy and natural.

At the conclusion of the first half of the concert, Joe Purcell and I, long-time friends of Frosty Clark, gave our own tributes and read several others from arts groups in Raleigh. Frosty was a unique person in many ways, known to many through his sideline business – recording local artists and groups. More than that, his love of classical music, his enthusiasm for all he did, his hosting of the Saturday Evening All-Request Program on WCPE (alternating weeks with Joe), and so much more left a legacy that reached far abroad in the musical community and will never be forgotten.

After intermission, the orchestra played Beethoven's Symphony No 7, Op. 92, sometimes known as the "Dance Symphony." The work was written in 1811-12 during a time when Beethoven was very anxious about his growing health problems – but then again, there was not much of his life when he wasn't. None of this shows up in this masterpiece, in which rhythms are every bit as important as melodies and development takes place largely along rhythmical lines. When the music is not dancing, it is singing – especially in the trio sections of the third movement. The second movement was an immediate hit at the premiere in Vienna in December of 1813 and has remained a very popular and quintessential Beethoven favorite. It starts out almost like a funeral march, somewhat like the slow movement of the "Eroica," but picks up life through a lyrical melody and intricate rhythm as it progresses. The orchestra performed very admirably, though in my estimation the first two movements were a little slower than is preferable with our present understanding of Beethoven's intentions.

This was my first Raleigh Symphony Orchestra concert, and I must say the warm string sound and the woodwind interplay especially impressed me. Though limited in this concert, the brass and percussion were also worthy of praise. Frosty would have loved it – especially the Beethoven – and would have given it an enthusiastic two thumbs up.