The Winston-Salem Symphony celebrated its second concert of the season with trumpets blaring. Guest artist Ryan Anthony treated the audience to a concerto he commissioned from American composer James Stephenson. Robert Moody, who is "celebrating" his "Bravo Bob! Maestro's Farewell Season," led the proceedings with his usual poise and flair.
Anthony asked Stephenson to write the concerto after the trumpeter had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a terminal cancer of the bone marrow). The work is in three movements and is intended to "evoke the events that had shaped forever his view on life, the world, (and) relationships:" from young concerto winner to patient battling life-threatening illness, "then accepting it and dealing with the reality and possible future. Then surviving and enjoying life."
The orchestral writing in the first movement presents a colorful, murmuring canvas over which winds flit until the trumpet enters with mostly ascending, optimistic gestures. The more somber second movement is a dramatic affair, using muted trumpet and off-stage players (a nod toward members of Anthony's family who played those instruments). All of this soul searching leads to despairing outcries from the trumpet. The third movement features piccolo trumpet in music that is life-affirming.
The playing from Anthony was terrific – virtuosic when called for, gentle and sad when needed, and buoyant and fiery at the conclusion. By the way, Anthony "has undergone an autologous stem cell transplant and is currently in complete remission."
The evening opened with a world premiere: Stephenson's Fanfare (not listed in the program). The work was commissioned by WSS members John F. and Lynn Beck. The 3-minute work, scored for 10 brass instruments and three percussionists, was a multi-sectional piece, with lots of jaunty and syncopated rhythms. Leading the spirited ensemble was WSS Assistant Conductor Jessica Morel.
Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) is generally considered to be the father of Czech music; his opera The Bartered Bride (1863-66) helped establish the Czech operatic tradition. The Overture is a show-stopping whirlwind of color and energy. Moody's tempo was at a break-neck speed, but the orchestra took it in stride and gave a terrific reading.
"Gabriel's Oboe" by Italian Ennio Morricone (b. 1928), was the theme to the 1986 film The Mission for which the composer won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. (The composer also wrote the music for the "spaghetti westerns" that made Clint Eastwood famous.) Trumpeter Anthony arranged the work for orchestra and piccolo trumpet. The 2-1/2 minute piece is lovely and evocative; it also gave Anthony more opportunity to demonstrate his lyric and legato playing.
Adagio for Strings by American Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is the composer's most famous work. It began life as the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11; both the quartet and the arrangement for strings were written in 1936. Since the latter version was first performed by the NBC orchestra under the direction of Toscanini in 1938, it has been used as background music for countless funerals, ads, and films. There are few pieces with a more tenuous opening than the Adagio, but the WSS solidly played that delicate opening. The entire piece was presented with finesse and tenderness. The intense climax near the end was profound and moving.
Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) composed one of his most famous compositions, Pines of Rome, in 1925. The four-movement tone poem depicts four different trees in different sites at different times of the day in the Eternal City. The composer wrote short descriptions of each movement.
The "Pines of the Villa Borghese" depicts children at play, and the music is fittingly playful, incorporating snippets of children songs in sparkling, dazzling orchestration. "The Pines Near a Catacomb" is a slow dirge featuring low strings and brass. An off-stage trumpet (beautifully played by Anita Cirba) intones a solemn hymn. "The Pines of the Janiculum" (a hill in Rome) depicts a night scene in which the composer designates that a recording of a nightingale singing is to be played toward the end of the movement.
One can hear Roman soldiers marching at the outset of "The Pine Trees of the Appian Way." Eventually the tension increases until the full brass section is ablaze. In this performance, 30+ extra trumpets were stationed in the balcony to add a thrilling effect – an electric conclusion and worthy tribute to guest artist Anthony.
The orchestra played the entire piece with great musicality and energy. Maestro Moody goaded the ensemble into giving its all. No baton was seen in the conductor's hand. Instead, Moody sprang, balanced on one foot, gesticulated climaxes with grand sweeps, and generally emoted the music's ever-changing character in brilliant and fun detail. The conductor fittingly recognized terrific playing of several soloists: Anita Cirba (trumpet), Brooks Whitehouse (cello), and Anthony Taylor (clarinet).
This program repeats Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. See our side bar for details.