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The J. E. Broyhill Civic Center Auditorium was the site of yet another spectacular concert by the Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra and John Gordon Ross, Music Director. The concert's theme was "Mountain Music!" Do not be misled, however; this concert was not about hoedowns and hillbillies!
The program opened with "A Night on Bald Mountain" by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-81) in the version arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov. This is a work known to most everyone, either from the Disney film Fantasia or from its use as background music or in commercials. The performance by the orchestra set the tone for the rest of the concert. The musicians were at their absolute best, playing tightly and precisely, with excitement and verve. One knew that there was even more excitement in store.
There was certainly no disappointment in the next piece on the program: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, K.297b, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91). This is the "other" sinfonia concertante, the one for winds, not the better-known one for violin and viola. A sinfonia concertante can be defined as a concerto for multiple soloists and orchestra, in which the soloists can be taken from standard orchestral resources, as opposed to a concerto, which uses instruments not commonly found in the orchestra, such as piano or harp. This held true, at least, in the last part of the 18th century, when the sinfonia concertante was quite popular.
The featured soloists were Joseph Robinson, former principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic; Wilfred Roberts, principal bassoon of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Douglas Miller; principal clarinet of the Western Piedmont Symphony; and Brice Andrus, principal French horn of the Atlanta Symphony. A finer collection of talent under one roof would be hard to find. "The mountain connection?" you may ask. Messrs. Robinson, Roberts, and Miller all hail from Lenoir. The performance was beyond description in every way. The soloists were united with each other and were one with the conductor and orchestra, whose collaboration was as perfect as one could ask.
Following an act that was hard to beat, the program closed with yet another world premiere — Symphony No. 1, The Adirondacks, by Edmund Cionek (b.1950). Commissioned by the Western Piedmont Symphony, the composer dedicated the work "with great gratitude and affection, to John Gordon Ross, Artistic Director of the Western Piedmont Symphony and champion of American Music."
This is a programmatic work in four movements. The first, "Forever Wild", refers to a wild land preserve in the Adirondack Mountains, the first to receive legal protection in New York, and the music truly reflects the wildness of the woods. The second movement, "The Grand Camps-Ghost Scherzo," refers to the lavish summer retreats of the wealthy. Waltz themes come and go throughout the movement, with a central section reminiscent of a county hoedown, and expert fiddlin' by Concertmaster Daniel Vega-Albela.
"The Great Solitude," the third movement, is tranquil and peaceful, shutting out urban noise and hubbub. The symphony concludes with "Storm," truly a portrayal of the tempestuous. All of the instruments play in a frenzy, and the percussion do not get a moment of rest as the storm uproots everything in its path, bringing the piece to a smashing close.
This work is not especially melodic in the sense that you walk out the door whistling a theme, but it is an expressive musical painting, with layers of color and tone swirling throughout the hall, which is the canvas. And what an exquisite painting it is, brought to life by the Western Piedmont Symphony at its very best. The record-breaking audience of more than eight hundred strong was brought to its feet in acclamation of both the composer and the performers.