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Monday, May 6, 2013
The Roanoke Symphony presented a program of mainly American works Sunday afternoon in Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center to an almost sold-out house of 800. Maestro David Stewart Wiley led a smaller ensemble of 13 players in a varied and pleasing program, dominated by the works of Aaron Copland.
The concert began with solo "fiddling" from Akemi Takayama as a lead-in to the familiar "Hoe-Down" from Copland's ballet "Rodeo," given here a rousing and foot-stomping rendition. Tracy Cowden provided excellent rhythmic support at the piano, where she stayed for the remainder of the concert.
Wiley gave a brief enlightening preview of Copland's "Appalachian Spring" by having his ensemble play highlights from the piece.
He then moved to an electronic keyboard to play the "bells" in his own "Concentric Circles," written for the film "Lake Effects." The lovely music featured the stirring legato sounds of the strings as well as the dexterous hands of both keyboard players. Wiley even managed to deftly sneak in a quotation of "Simple Gifts."
Two very romantic works for strings and piano followed, one by an American and the other by a Hungarian. Howard Hanson's "Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Youth" was played nostalgically, ending so ethereally that there was that magical moment of appreciative silence before the audience applauded enthusiastically.
Erno Dohnanyi's Piano Quintet, played like an expanded piece of chamber music, was given a passionate performance and demonstrated superb ensemble.
In both works, Cowden impressed the audience with her virtuosity at the piano, dispatching propulsive, motoristic passages in the Hanson and intricate filigree in the Dohnanyi with admirable ease.
The second half of the program was given over entirely to Copland's beloved ballet score "Appalachian Spring," played this time in its original version for a chamber orchestra of 13 players. It allowed the talents of various players to shine, especially the clarinet, flute and bassoon solos of Carmen Eby, Alycia Hugo and Elizabeth Roberts, respectively.
Wiley led a sensitive performance. Whether the music was contemplative, energetic or hymnodic, he made a persuasive case for this masterpiece, creating a fitting ending to a season of great programs.
The audience enthusiastically rewarded the musicians with a standing ovation.
Timothy Gaylard is professor of music at Washington and Lee University.
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