Sunday night, I had the pleasure of hearing – for the first time ever – the Westerville Symphony, under the direction of Maestro Peter Stafford Wilson. If his name sounds familiar, it should! He’s one of the associate conductors with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra as well as the Music Director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. He also conducts the Ballet Met as well as, of all places, the Tulsa Ballet.
Outside of the US, he’s guest-conducted as far away as China! Of course, his bio says he’s a wine enthusiast, so if he’s smart, he’ll get a guest-conducting gig with the Strasbourg Philharmonic. Not only is the orchestra very good, but there are some great Alsatian wines out there – especially the rieslings. (Just trying to help you out, Maestro!)
Other than visiting some of the venues within Otterbein itself when my cousin, Cameron, performed as a student there, I had no idea this charming amphitheater even existed. Yes – I know. I should get out more. (I’m working on that!) This was a great place for an evening of music – bring your lawn chairs and your dinner and you’re all set for a great evening!
Last week, I was approached by someone at the website Bachtrack about writing reviews for them. Me? Write reviews? I had to giggle when they asked for my CV showing my musical education background. Um. I don’t actually have a musical education background. I have degrees in French and HR – not exactly shining examples of a music background though I did play piano and was in the marching band through college. Still have your doubts? That’s ok. I did, too.
I’m talking with them and agreed to write a practice review, so here’s my perfect opportunity. In preparation, I Emailed the Westerville Symphony for a list of what was being played and read about the pieces in advance. I also listened to them on YouTube to have an idea of what they sounded like.
Copland: An Outdoor Overture
Wagner: Rienzi’s Overture
Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite
Chabrier: España Rhapsody for Orchestra
Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien
My first thought? Yuck. I didn’t know any of these pieces and romantic and 20th century are my two least favorite eras of music. They each have exceptions and have beautiful music, but overall, I much prefer anything Beethoven and earlier. That’s all right though. I buy season tickets with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra so that I can get my Mozart fix but also to expose myself to new (to me) music. So my second thought? GREAT! Besides, I’d never seen Maestro Wilson conduct before, so what a great opportunity.
WOSU’s Jennifer Hambrick started off the evening with an introduction and background of the music we were about to hear. If you’re unfamiliar with Ms. Hambrick, download the app for WOSU Classical 101 and listen to her between 10-2pm. This lady is a walking, talking encyclopedia of classical music knowledge. She has a great radio voice, too, and when she talks about pieces of music, she just oozes knowledge yet at the same time, makes it the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard. (She also writes the reviews in the Dispatch for the CSO concerts, so yeah – she definitely knows her stuff.)
OK. I was ready for this. I’d studied. She started off talking about Copland’s overture which he’s originally written for a high school in New York City. No problem. Right there with you. After a couple of composers she just blew me out of the water. As the farmer on the Geico commercial would say, “Dagnabit!” Hey – I lasted through Copland and Chabrier. That was pretty good, right? 🙂 (Right?)
I didn’t hate the Khachaturian!
The concert itself was wonderful and the musicians did a great job performing. I didn’t know what to expect, so I was happily impressed! At least three pieces started with the trumpet giving principal trumpet player Richard Scranton lots of solo opportunities. He did a great job and definitely earned his keep!
My two favorite pieces were probably the first and the last. In the Copland, the percussion made the whole piece. Loved the xylophone and the rest of the percussionists were fabulous, too. What a fun piece – and to think it was originally written for a high school band? Wow! As for the Tchaikovsky piece, the strings got quite a workout with that one and sounded terrific. That was probably my favorite!
Under normal circumstances, I’m not usually a huge Wagner fan. Part of why I don’t like his era is because the music seems so heavy and overbearing. It’s as if they compose music with the idea of giving literally every musician in town something to play all at the same time. The orchestras are huge. Give me early music or a chamber orchestra any day and I’m happy! That said, Rienzi’s overture, with the initial trumpet solo that Mr. Scranton nailed, was – as Jennifer Hambrick called it “Wagner before he became Wagner!” In my notes, I wrote “I really like this piece!” It was lovely and even the little girl in front of me was conducting the orchestra! She kept a good beat, too. I was impressed!
Khatchaturian – I thought I’d hate it. I really did – even after listening to the waltz twice in preparation, I wasn’t thrilled. I told my mom ahead of time when we listened to the waltz together, that it sounded like straight, generic, Soviet music that you either have to like or if not, be taken to some gulag in Siberia. Ugh. Actually, part of it was reminiscent of the musical Chess.
Well I’ll be darned if Maestro Wilson didn’t up the tempo a bit to make it sound so much nicer. It’s amazing how a change in tempo can really improve a piece of music. Don’t get me wrong – it can ruin it, too, but in this case, it made me feel like I was listening to something completely different than what I’d listened to online, and this time, I liked it!
After the waltz, they played two more of the five movements including the nocturne. Concertmaster Erin Gilliland did a wonderful job with her solo. It was beautifully played. Finally, the Galop was played. Still a definite “Soviet-style, in your face” kind of march, but the funky dissonance in the chords were actually pretty fun. Plus, it made for a great opportunity to show off the wind section. Always great to hear the clarinets!
Dad told me Sunday morning that he liked a lot of Chabrier’s music. What’s this? Dad – you raised me yet you’ve never mentioned Chabrier! Sure I know all about J.S. Bach (LOVE Bach!), but I’d never heard of Chabrier before. His España Rhapsody was nice and had more great percussion in it. Heck in his day, they said that he, a French composer, wrote Spanish music better than Spanish composers! OH SNAP!
Chabrier basically responded to that with a big, “Whatever. It’s in the key of F – no biggie.” Clearly that’s paraphrased, but it’s not actually off by much!
Alum Creek Park Amphitheater
What a great venue!. I’m so glad I now know where it is so I can come back for more concerts. I loved how people just brought their own lawn chairs with their dinners and wine and popcorn – just like the CSO’s Picnic With the Pops downtown. I’d already had dinner but happily brought my dessert with me along with plenty of water. Ugh – that sun was hot! It finally dipped below the tree line somewhere in the middle of the Khachaturian suite.
This was the couple in front of me. I thought this was a pretty sweet picture!
The Westerville Symphony was really good. They start playing again in October on the Otterbein Campus. I definitely think I’ll be hearing them again.
- Westerville Symphony: Practice Review (giocosity.com)