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Monday, April 8, 2013
The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, the Roanoke Symphony Chorus, the Liberty University Concert Choir and the Southern Virginia University Concert Chorale performed at the Performing Arts Theatre on Monday night. Maestro David Stewart Wiley conducted and played the piano in an all-Beethoven program to an audience of more than 1,500 people.
The evening began with a riveting rendition of the Seventh Symphony. The mesmerizing introduction, featuring the fine woodwind section, set the mood for a memorable performance. In the fast section of the first movement, the orchestra responded with the requisite bounce to Wiley's dancelike activities on the podium. In the haunting slow movement, Wiley brought out the melancholy of the main theme, sometimes reducing the string sound to a mere whisper, as well as emphasizing the hopeful beauty of the second theme, played with lyric grace by clarinetist Carmen Eby .
The refreshingly buoyant scherzo moved along humorously, interrupted in the trio by the magnificent brass fanfares. But the last movement proved to be the most exhilarating of all because of Wiley's inspiring baton and the forceful precision brought to this joyous finale. One came away from this rendition convinced again of Beethoven's genius and complete mastery of the symphonic form.
After the intermission, the audience heard two lesser works by the master, both in some ways forecasts of his Ninth Symphony. First, the unusual work for chorus and orchestra entitled "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage" helped to demonstrate Beethoven's unique response to Goethe's set of poems about travel upon the seas. Here the orchestra was expertly complemented by the choruses on stage to produce harmonic peace mixed with ecstatic joy, so typical of the composer.
To end the program, the "Choral Fantasy" featured Wiley as piano soloist, with John Hugo as able leader at the helm of all the musicians. Wiley appended to the beginning of the work his own carefully worked-out cadenza, with sly allusions to Beethoven's Fifth, Seventh and Ninth.
He displayed an impressive technique and a dynamic control over his instrument, seeming to take on the personality of the composer himself. Indeed, at the piano sometimes he expostulated and at other times he thundered.
When the choruses intoned the main tune, the best one of the piece, they sang with a magnificent full sound, provided a fitting climax to a celebratory evening, and one that stimulated the appreciative audience to a standing ovation.
As an encore, the last section of the Choral Fantasy was performed again!
Timothy Gaylard is professor of music at Washington and Lee University.
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