Orchestral Music Review



Salisbury Symphony Orchestra

January 19, 2008 - Salisbury, NC:


The Salisbury Symphony Orchestra continued its 2007-08 season in Keppel Auditorium on the campus of Catawba College with a concert entitled "Thanks to a Friend," under the baton of Music Director David Hagy. The idea for the concert grew out of a grant from The Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation for a new set of five timpani. To show off these timpani, Hagy programmed Greensboro-based composer Russell Peck's Concerto for Timpani, "Harmonic Rhythm," which led to a series of works associated with Hagy's first composition and conducting teacher, Thomas Briccetti, whose work was also presented on the program.

The concert opened with the Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers by Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868). Recreating a false start of the work that Hagy had in a high school rehearsal, under the direction of Briccetti (in which the percussionist mistook a "marcato" marking for "maracas," giving the quiet pizzicato opening a Latin flavor), the orchestra stopped and started over with the "correct" instrumentation. The oboe solos, played by Principal Anna Lampidis, were impeccable, as were the clarinet of Eileen Young and the flute of Carla Copeland-Burns. The strings were precise and focused, and the entire orchestra built up to the quintessential "Rossini crescendo," bringing great excitement.

There followed the Concerto for String Orchestra in D minor, RV 127, by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). This is a concerto for full orchestra, with no soloists, in three movements: fast-slow-fast. David Hagy also learned this work under Briccetti, and the strings provided a wonderful performance of this piece.

Russell Peck (b.1945) is a North Carolina composer who has had many of his works played throughout the state and the country. Much of his work is very rhythmic and often utilizes a great deal of percussion. The Timpani Concerto was conceived by Jim Brown, timpanist of the Savannah Symphony, and was first performed in 2000. The soloist for this concert was Peter Zlotnick, Principal Timpanist of the Salisbury Symphony. He holds degrees from Northwestern University and the Eastman School of Music, and is also Principal Timpanist of the Winston-Salem and Greensboro Symphonies.

The concerto is in four sections, with episodes for solo timpani connected by orchestral links. There is a diverse range of moods and effects, with influences of rock and jazz, music reminiscent of the golden age of film, and hints of Gershwin and other American composers. Although they are percussion instruments, the timpani are also tuned, and they are quite musical and lyrical in Peter Zlotnick's hands. He was able to draw sweet melodies from his drums, despite the limited number of pitches available. Zlotnick is truly a virtuoso timpanist, as was demonstrated by his agility in moving among his instruments and changing sticks so many times. Again, the orchestra provided expert collaboration, capturing the many moods of Peck's work.

The second half of the program opened with Illusions by Thomas Briccetti (1936-99). In addition to composing, Briccetti conducted for the Indianapolis and Omaha Symphonies and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. His composition style is 20th century, where tone color, rhythm, meter, dynamics and articulations are as important as melody. Illusions is in four movements: "Joy," "Love," "Time," and "Truth," the third movement having been dedicated to David Hagy. The entire work is a study of contrasts — fast and slow, loud and soft — with many repeated passages passed back and forth between and among instruments and sections. In some respects, it is like the minimalist composers Philip Glass and John Adams. Briccetti gives no player a rest; the strings, winds, and percussion all get vigorous workouts, and everyone was up to the task, providing a very exciting performance.

The concert closed with Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963). Hindemith was a German composer who settled in the United States in 1940 and became a professor at Yale University. Symphonic Metamorphosis, one of his most popular orchestral works, has become a part of the standard repertory. It takes melodies from various works by Weber (mainly piano duets, but also one from the overture to his incidental music for Turandot) and transforms and adapts them so that each movement of the piece is based on one theme. Again, virtuosic demands are made on every section of the orchestra, and every member of the Salisbury Symphony played to his or her fullest, bringing the concert to a grand and exciting conclusion.

This concert was one of the most technically difficult the orchestra has undertaken; despite missing one rehearsal due to the weather, it provided about as perfect a performance as one could ask. The smallish audience, hopefully reduced by the weather and not the program content, was greatly enthusiastic and appreciative of the orchestra's and Hagy's efforts. Those who missed it, for whatever reason, missed a truly inspired performance.