‘Awesome Arts’ is simply awesome
SALISBURY — Lest anyone think that a symphony concert is stuffy and stodgy, they certainly did not attend the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra’s concert “Awesome Arts,” presented on Saturday, Feb. 2 in Keppel Auditorium at Catawba College. There was music, song, dance, drama, comedy, tragedy and more music. Music Director David Hagy gave us it all, even a music stand that wouldn’t behave and had to be banished. What more could you ask for?
For the first part of the concert, even the auditorium was not set up in the usual configuration. The strings were in the orchestra pit in front of the stage, and the winds and percussion lined up in front of the curtain on the stage. In this form, the program opened with “To Music” by John Corigliano (born 1938), one of America’s preeminent composers. This short piece is a tribute to Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) art song, “An die Musik,” which followed directly.
“To Music” provides multiple layers of music, quoting some of the Schubert piece, into which is woven a tapestry of hymn-like harmonies, dissonant melodies and exciting fanfares played in surround sound, with the wind instruments spread around the rear of the hall and balcony, for a very exciting effect.
This segued directly into Schubert’s “An die Musik” (“To Music” in English), a powerful poetic tribute to music, sung gorgeously by soprano Megan Cleaveland.
Cleaveland is currently completing her studies in vocal performance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Her prodigious talent was then displayed by singing “Popoli di Tessaglia,” a recitative and aria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). This is a coloratura piece filled with melodic ornamentation and embellishments, and many treacherously high notes, all of which Cleaveland performed with great ease, aplomb and beauty. This young woman has an absolutely stunning voice, and I would love to hear more. I predict it will take her far.
Concluding the first half was a ballet to Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” (A Little Night Music), performed by members of the Piedmont Dance Theatre, and choreographed by founder and director, Rebecca Wiley. The music is a four-movement serenade for strings: fast, slow, minuet and fast. The dance was classical (almost), with pristine white tutus, and choreography more interesting than many classical ballets I have seen.
The second movement, however, was anything but “classical,” and was more of a spoof on serious ballet (ala Des Ballets Trockedero de Monte Carlo ... Google it), with dancers out of step, falling over, wearing glasses and bandanas, and all sorts of silliness. Then back to the seriousness for the last two movements, all for a good time, with good dancing and music, and a rather memorable performance.
The full orchestra was on the stage for the second half of the concert, a feat of choreography in itself, to play excerpts from the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” by the Russian composer Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953).
Although there was no dancing, you could follow the story through the music, from love themes to fighting to dancing and singing, more fighting, and love themes again, as Romeo and Juliet ultimately die. Prokofiev’s music is gut- and heart-wrenching, with transcendent beauty, and the orchestra’s performance was awesome in every note, in, I think, one of its finest performances ever.
Stay tuned for more exciting things to come in the rest of the season.