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In his pre-concert remarks to the audience in Keppel Auditorium on the campus of Catawba College, Music Director David Hagy described the concert as a three-course meal, with a salad; Concerto in D for String Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), the main course, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's (1756-1791) Concerto No. 20 in D minor for Piano and Orchestra, K.466, and what every child and sweet-tooth longs for, a large, luscious dessert, Scheherazade, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908).
The Concerto in D for String Orchestra is characteristic of Stravinsky's neoclassical style; that is, it is written in a three-movement style originating from the 18th century. But there, the "classical" similarity ends. With the exception of two melodious themes, the work is a salad of mixed greens consisting of complex spiky rhythms, jarring dissonances in which the orchestra clashes repeatedly between D major and D minor, and a frenetic perpetual motion final movement. The work is very difficult for every instrumentalist in the orchestra. Its virtuosity is unparalleled in the repertoire for string orchestra, and the Salisbury strings came through with gusto and panache.
Mozart's twentieth piano concerto was the first of only two out of twenty-seven that he wrote in a minor key and the one for which he was most famous, especially during the 19th century. Indeed, it is the one Beethoven played and for which he wrote cadenzas. In this work, Mozart broadened the importance of the piano concerto in the musical world. It is filled with demonic vitality, and even the slow movement, which begins and ends with a serenely beautiful melody, is interrupted with a turbulent middle section.
The piano soloist, Louis Goldstein, is a Professor of music at Wake Forest University. He has performed widely in the United States and internationally, and is a specialist in music of the present day. The orchestra provided a very robust and tasty meat course to collaborate with Goldstein's fluid and agile playing. Filling though it was, I was hungry for more.
And along came the huge and scrumptious dessert! Scheherazade is a symphonic suite which tells the tale of the Sultana Scheherazade, who managed to outwit her husband, Sultan Schahriar of Persia, who was convinced that all women were unfaithful and vowed to kill each of his wives after the first night of marriage. She saved her own life by telling him a story that would never end, a new story beginning each night after the end of another. This continued for one thousand and one nights, after which the sultan gave up his vow and allowed Scheherazade to live.
The suite is in four movements, filled with lots of luscious sweets and covered with gooey syrups and whipped cream. Opulent violin solos, representing the sultana, permeate all four movements. Concertmaster Dan Skidmore captured the sensuality and absolute beauty of the heroine with a gorgeous tone and great virtuosity. Indeed, Rimsky-Korsakov provided solo passages for almost every principal player, and all are to be commended for their astonishingly beautiful and masterful playing. These include Anne Selitti, cello, Carla Copeland-Burns, flute, Anna Lampidis Glantz, oboe, Kimberly Tyler, English horn, Eileen Young, clarinet; Ann Shoemaker, bassoon, Frank Merritt, horn, Luke Boudreault and Greg Hall, trumpets, Chris Ferguson, trombone, and Julie Hammarback, harp. Of course, the rest of the orchestra also played with great passion, adding to the total enjoyment.
Scheherazade is a piece of which I have never been terribly fond, at least until now. The Salisbury Symphony Orchestra, under David Hagy's most able direction, has convinced me otherwise. And, in this concert, they have provided a very rich and varied meal for all of us.