Review: Even tough crowds will be delighted by Salisbury Symphony’s April streaming performance

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 21, 2021

By W. Gerald Cochran

The Salisbury Symphony is now presenting its second performance of the season, entitled “PLAYUL Chamber Music” via internet streaming from April 5-11. The original performance was recorded on March 13 at the Norvell Theatre in downtown Salisbury, and what a spectacular concert it was. The concert is dedicated to Nancy Stanback in thanks and recognition of her long-time and valued support of the Salisbury Symphony. 

The program opens with the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major, BWV 1051, by  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). This concerto, the last of this set, is unusual in that there are no violins, just two violas, two violas da gamba, a cello, double bass and harpsichord. This unusual arrangement gives the two violas and the cello the main parts of the concerto with the other instruments in a supporting role. In this way, this concerto is one of the most striking of the Brandenburgs. The viola parts were expertly played by Timothy Gudger and Kathryn Middel, with Ryan Graebert on the cello. Violas de gamba were ably played by Holly Maurer and Liz  Burns. Mara Barker was on the double bass. Harpsichord was played by David Hagy.  

Jumping from the 18th to the 20th century, the group presented “Scherzo” by American composer John Cheetham (born 1939). Cheetham was a professor of music theory and composition at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “Scherzo,” composed in 1963, is a quintet for brass, and it has become one of the standard pieces in the brass quintet repertoire. It is upbeat and rhythmic, and was expertly played by Luke Boudreault and Mark Hibshman, trumpets; Chris Ferguson, trombone; and Ed Baity, tuba.  

Walter Piston (1894-1976) was an American composer who spent most of his life teaching at Harvard. His “Divertimento,” for nine instruments, was written in 1946, his first major composition after World War II. It shows more optimism than his previous works. It is scored for a woodwind quartet and a string quartet as well as a double bass. It was expertly played by Dan Skidmore and Laura Blankenship, violins; Tim Gudger, viola, Ryan Graebert, cello; Mara Barker, double bass; and Carla Copeland Burns, Anna Lampidis Glantz, Eileen Young, and Cory Jones, playing flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, respectively.  

For a change of pace, the group performed “Symphony of Rags” by Scott Joplin (1868-1917) as arranged by the Salisbury Symphony Music Director David Hagy for string quartet, double  bass, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, percussion and piano, with Amanda Sycamore on  percussion and David Hagy conducting from the piano. This is a medley of five of Joplin’s  works, providing a wonderful example of his variations in style, and exceptionally well played by the ensemble. 

Closing the program was “Introduction and Allegro” by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), written in 1905 to demonstrate a newly designed pedal harp. It features string  quartet, flute and clarinet, with harp as soloist in what amounts to a little concerto. The piece features poetic tenderness and sparkling animation. The harp playing requires exceptional virtuosity that celebrates the instrument in its full glory, and it was extraordinarily accomplished by Helen Rifas, who has been principal harp for the Salisbury Symphony for many years.  

This was an exceptional and markedly unusual program and one which should delight even the most discriminating audience. It can be viewed from April 5-11. Don’t forget: In order to view this magnificent concert, go to the Salisbury Symphony web site at salisburysymphony.org and click on “get tickets” under “PLAYFUL Chamber Music” or  call the symphony office at 704-216-1513.

Dr. W. Gerald Cochran lives in Salisbury.

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