April 24, 2021
By W. Gerald Cochran

Hickory – Once again, the Western Piedmont Symphony gathered at Drendel Auditorium of the Catawba Valley Arts and Science Center to present to a small live audience and a virtual audience the second of its Community Concerts for the 2021 season. The orchestra, under the directorship of Matthew Troy, was joined by the Tesla Quartet (Michelle Lie and Ross Snyder, violins; Edwin Kaplan, viola; and Michael Katz, cello), who had been Quartet-in-Residence from 2015 to 2019. The orchestra, reduced in size to accommodateWestern Piedmont Symphony Concert social distancing rules, presented a most unusual and fascinating concert.

The program opened with A Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, a symphonic poem by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) in an arrangement by Paolo Fradiani (born 1984), using string quartet, double bass (Aaron Craven), flute (Laura Stevens), Oboe (Anna Morris), Clarinet (Douglas Miller), horn (Timothy Papenbrock), and harp (Helen Rifas). The work was inspired by a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé. The work is considered the beginning of modern music especially of the impressionist school. It is quite delightful and deeply moving. Especially notable were the gorgeous flute solos and stunning harp solos.

Cindy McTee (born 1953) is an American composer who brings a fresh voice and sound to concert music. Performed here was Einstein’s Dream, written in 2004 for strings, percussion, and computer sounds to honor the centenary of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein was devoted to Bach, and the piece opens with one of his chorales. From there it progresses through multiple sections that explore the nature of light, subatomic particles, the celestial spheres, etc. It is a wonderful and intriguing piece combining classical orchestral sounds with modern electronic sources, expertly performed by the ensemble.

Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) was an American composer best known for motion picture music. Tonight’s program included his Symphonic Suite from “Fahrenheit 451,” which was a film based on the novel of the same name about a society that outlaws and burns books to prevent the growth of knowledge and, thus, revolution. Scored for strings, harp, marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, and glockenspiel, this is a highly entertaining and serious music score, which was expertly executed for this concert. The percussion playing was exceptional.

Interiors, by American composer Adrienne Albert (born1941), is a movement of an unfinished work for string orchestra. It was written in 2003 in memory of events of 9/11 and is a pensive work commenting on the state of the world at that time. Dissonant yet melodic, it goes from minor to major, ending on a hopeful note.

Closing the program was Bela Bartok’s (1881-1945) Romanian Folk Dances. This is a suite of six short pieces based on Romanian folk dance tunes. Originally written for piano, Bartok later orchestrated it for small ensemble. These are delightful, short dances, presented tonight with great spirit and elan.

Tonight’s concert was probably one of the most diverse and eclectic that I can remember this orchestra ever doing. It was superbly performed, and although much of the music was from the 20th and 21st centuries, it was very listenable, enjoyable, and entertaining. Among other things, it shows that modern music is not to be feared. The members of the orchestra are to be congratulated for their exceptionally fine performance of some rather technically difficult music.

Do stay tuned for the “Comeback Concert,” a full orchestra concert to be presented at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center in Lenoir on Saturday, May 15, 2021 at 7:30pm. It promises to be quite enjoyable.