Salisbury Symphony celebrates 50th anniversary with ‘best performance’ ever

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

By Dr. W. Gerald Cochran

Special to the Post

SALISBURY — This past Saturday, the Salisbury Symphony began a yearlong festival celebrating its 50th anniversary with a concert in Keppel Auditorium on the campus of Catawba College. The concert, conducted by Music Director David Hagy and with Frederic Chiu as piano soloist, presented some of the most technically challenging music it has ever played.

At the beginning of the program, Maestro Hagy introduced each of the 78 members of the orchestra by name in groups according to their longevity, ending with the one person who played in the first concert on November 7, 1967 – violinist Leroy T. Sellers. Congratulations to them all.

The program opened with, appropriately, “Variations on “Happy Birthday’ ” by John Williams (born 1932) of “Star Wars” fame. This is a series of variations featuring the various sections of the orchestra; some of the music is dissonant, but it is filled with humor, especially when the tympani have the melody.

The North Carolina premiere of “Dreamtime Ancestors” by Chris Theofanidis (born 1967) followed. This work was commissioned by the Salisbury Symphony and orchestras in each of the other 49 states. It represents a blending of past, present and future into perpetual timelessness of the ancient mythologies of the Australian Aborigines. It is a three movement work, both dreamy and ethereal, and with an occasional eruption, perhaps to capture the present.

The first half of the program closed with Richard Strauss’s (1864-1949) tone poem “Don Juan.” This is a tour de force depicting the great libertine’s quest for beauty and love and his final realization that his goal can never be achieved. The music ends with his death in a duel. This work contains some of the most difficult music in the orchestral repertoire.

Each of the above works showcases parts for each of the orchestral sections: first and second violins, violas, cellos, basses, woodwinds, brass, percussion, timpani and harp. Each of the sections played with extreme agility and virtuosity, warmth, vigor, and multiple more laudatory adjectives of your choice. Of note were concertmaster Dan Skidmore’s violin solos, and oboe solos so beautiful in “Don Juan” by principal Anna Lampidis Glantz that they gave me chills. I could go on and on about the superb playing, but space prohibits.

The program closed with Piano Concerto No 5, “The Emperor,” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), featuring the world-renowned pianist, Frederic Chiu, as soloist. Mr. Chiu, a graduate of Indiana University and the Julliard School, has had an extensive concert and teaching career covering the United States, Europe and Asia.

The last of Beethoven’s concertos, “The Emperor” was so named (not by Beethoven) because it was considered the grandest of them all. In the first movement, the orchestra and piano have somewhat equal roles. The second movement is one of the most beautiful and sublime ever written, and the third is a dazzling dance. Mr. Chiu played with stunning virtuosity and elegance reminiscent, to me at least, of Rudolf Serkin. Mr. Chiu also adds the human touch to the work, sometimes lacking in other artists.

I have been attending Salisbury Symphony concerts for the last 30 years and, having missed very few, I can say that almost each performance improves on the previous one. To say that this concert was the best performance ever given by the Salisbury Symphony would not be an exaggeration. They will be giving five more performances this season, and who know what wonders they will produce.

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