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Review: Salisbury Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Pure and Noble Spirit’

 By W. Gerald Cochran, M.D.

On March 23, the Keppel Auditorium of Catawba College was transformed  – with the exception of when the lights went out (but more on that later) – into the Carnegie Hall of the South, complete with a full-blown symphony orchestra, a world-class piano soloist, and an enthusiastic audience, all for the Salisbury Symphony’s concert titled “Pure and Noble Spirit.” All the works played were written to demonstrate the lasting nobility of the human spirit.

The program opened with Overture to The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). This was one of Mozart’s last compositions, premiered just nine weeks before his death. The story of the opera is an allegory of the quest for wisdom and enlightenment. The music is a merry fugue whose sparkling tune romps through the instruments of the orchestra to a grand finale.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was a German prodigy who was skilled in violin, piano, conducting, and composition, and was one of the most prolific and accomplished composers of the 19th century. He was called by many the “Romantic Mozart,” as he ushered in the Romantic musical style by incorporating new innovations into his compositions. His Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra in G minor reflects this new style by breaking many of the rules of the classical period: the piano enters the first movement after only seven measures to develop the theme along with the orchestra and the three movements run together with no breaks between them. The fast, fiery first movement flows into the second, which is a melancholy song, and this, in turn, flows directly into the third, an enthusiastic rondo full of spirited fireworks which ultimately returns to the original theme in the first movement to conclude the concerto, all of this requiring a virtuoso pianist as well as a virtuoso orchestra.

The Salisbury Symphony was fortunate to have Solomon Eichner as the pianist for this prodigious work. Mr. Eichner, originally from Baltimore, has degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, the Peabody Conservatory, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of South Carolina. In addition to an extensive concert career, Mr. Eichner is on the staff at Campbell University and Wake Tech Community College. Mr. Eichner played with virtuosic ease; he was spirited and vivacious and made the music sing and come alive.

Closing the program was Symphony No. 5 in B-flat by Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953). Prokofiev wrote his fifth symphony in 1944 in Russia during World War II as a hymn to optimism and to “the pure and noble spirit.” The first movement is calm and soaring, with lyrical melodies predominating. The second movement is a scherzo, and the third is dreamy and slow and full of nostalgia, and here is where the lights went out…literally. After determining that the main lighting of the stage was completely out of commission, the stage managers were able to find enough accessory lighting for the musicians to read their music, and the performance continued from the middle of the third movement and continuing onto the last, which opens with a cello choir playing a theme from the first movement. This develops into a rondo and from there the music degenerates into a manic frenzy to the end. This work calls for a very large orchestra – there were 79 musicians on stage – and great virtuosity from them all. There are lovely melodic themes played by clarinet and flute and the cello choir, mentioned before, and areas with full brass and percussion causing a cacophony of dissonance, which is what Prokofiev precisely intended.

The Salisbury Symphony should be very proud of this fine accomplishment; in my estimation this was the finest concert performance they have done in the past 30 years, the power outage notwithstanding. Each performance seems to elevate the level of excellence for this group and Maestro David Hagy and the orchestra musicians are to be congratulated on a splendid accomplishment.

 

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