Western Piedmont
Symphony Masterworks Concert I
October 6, 2018
By W. Gerald Cochran

Hickory – The Western Piedmont Symphony opened its 54th season in the P. E. Monroe Auditorium on the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University featuring guest conductor Matthew Troy as the first of four guest conductors this season in “The Maestro Challenge.” Each is auditioning to become the new Music Director of the orchestra and to succeed Maestro John Gordon Ross, who retired after 27 spectacular seasons.

Mr. Troy brings a wealth of experience and has conducted many orchestras across the country. He is currently the Music Director of the Piedmont Wind Symphony and Education Conductor for the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. He also served for several years as Associate Conductor of the Winston-Salem Symphony.

The program opened with Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite, Op. 35, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). Scheherazade is based on four tales from The Arabian Nights as told by Scheherazade to her husband, the Sultan. Scheherazade’s voice is depicted by the solo violin, played impeccably and lusciously by Concertmaster Michelle Lie. This piece also provides solos for many section principals, all of which were played with exceptional virtuosity. The string sections also were quite extraordinary, playing with great clarity and dynamic range. One could imagine the tension and drama of the story through the music. I have not ever been a big fan of this work, but this performance was so very exciting and has made me think differently about the piece.

The second half opened with the Overture to Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). Der Freischütz steered German opera away from Italian influences and helped establish the German opera art form. It is probably the best-known of von Weber’s works.

Following this came Bernard Hermann’s (1911-1975) Suite from Vertigo, the Alfred Hitchcock movie. It opens with a feeling of vertigo, then proceeds to an eerie nightmare, and finally culminates in a love scene. All of this is very graphic, and the drama and tension were excellently captured by the musicians.

The culmination of the program was Totentanz, Paraphrase on “Dies Irae,” for piano and orchestra by Franz Liszt (1811-1886). The piano soloist was Dmitri Vorobiev. A native of Russia, Mr. Vorobiev has concertized widely throughout the world, appearing as soloist with many different orchestras. He is also associate professor of piano at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Totentanz (Dance of Death), like his two piano concertos, was written to show off Liszt’s exceptional talent as a pianist, and is very flashy. Based on the plainchant theme “Dies Irae,” it depicts the terrors of the Last Judgment, and the difficulty of the work is, itself, a terror. After the performance, when asked my impression of the pianist, I said he was, “the very embodiment of Liszt, and probably just as mad.” How else could one play such a fiendishly difficult piece so fiendishly? The orchestra was an able collaborator with the soloist, providing a thrilling and spine-tingling performance.

Maestro Troy also performed stunningly, and he brought excitement to both the orchestra and the audience. He has, indeed, set a very high bar for the three remaining guest conductors for this season.