Virginia Symphony Orchestra: Pure magic in a perfect setting
By Kip Tabb on May 2, 2018
It doesn’t get much better than this: On the last Saturday in April, beneath a deep blue sky with scattered clouds and the Roanoke Sound as a backdrop, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra took the stage at Roanoke Island Festival Park.
From the first notes of the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro to a rousing encore of Offenbach’s Galop Infernal, better known as the Can-Can dance, it was as close to a perfect afternoon of music as there can be.
There are always a number of factors that go into the creating a memorable musical experience; setting and musicianship, of course, but also the selections. When all three are combined, magic happens.
The program kept to tried and true compositions — music that, even if the titles of some of the selections weren’t familiar or the composers were from 200 or 250 years ago, the music was recognizable.
Director Adam Turner took a moment to explain that he typically conducts the orchestra for the Virginia Opera Company, so most of the music for the day was going to be from musicals and opera.
What he chose were from vocal music, but they emphasized the setting and in his selections he seemed to show an understanding of how to reach his audience.
Beginning with the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro was the ideal way to begin. The music is rousing, quick, tuneful and … happy. It set the stage for everything that followed.
Selections from Bizet’s classic opera Carmen followed. Although the titles of the individual movements may not be familiar, much of the music is part of our everyday language. We hum the tunes, they are background for ads.
But to hear the everyday songs of our lives performed as the composer envisioned them, and with musicians of the caliber of the Virginia Symphony, is a moment to be treasured.
Not all of the music was from the 18th and 19th centuries. More modern composers were also featured and in those more modern compositions there were some remarkable moments.
John Williams’ Across the Stars tells the story of the love of Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala. It is a beautiful, evocative piece of music. At the core of the music, the harp holds everything together, all the crescendos and decrescendos of the orchestra, the oboe and French horn solos. Then, as tension mounts, near the end of the composition, there is a reminder of the purity of love as the harp comes to the fore.
It would be hard to imagine anyone playing that solo better than harpist Barbara Chapman performed it on Saturday.
Conductor Adam Turner urging the audience to clap along with the Can-Can song.
Williams was not the only American composer highlighted in the performance. The second half of the program was all American composers. Two Bernstein pieces, it’s the 100th anniversary of his birth this year, and Henry Mancini’s Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s weere performed.
Selections from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess stood out. In particular, the trombone solo in Summertime by Scott McElroy was exquisite in capturing the mood and feeling of the piece.
Turner helped with making the music a bit more accessible. Engaging and funny, he kept the audience informed.
As the performance came to an end with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture from West Side Story, he let it be known the if the audience stood and cheered and said “Encore” there was a good possibility the orchestra would play one more piece that was not on the program.
The prompting may have been unnecessary, but it did ensure a standing ovation and calls for an encore.
And what an encore it was. The Can-Can is a fast-moving piece of pure energy in music, and Turner had some fun with it, pivoting to the audience a number of times to conduct the them, exhorting them to clap along.
It was a perfect way to end as close to a perfect day for music as there could be.
The Virginia Symphony orchestra performance was the last performance of the 2017-18 year for the Outer Banks Forum for the Lively Arts. The 2018-19 season is still being scheduled, although the Virginia Symphony has traditionally ended the season for the Forum.