Classical Music

Peace Corps and Romantic Passions

A week ago Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending another concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra only this time, I had a lot of company with me. Coming along with me this time were a dozen or so of my friends from my Peace Corps alumni group, or CORVA (Central Ohio Returned Volunteers Association).


Peace Corps volunteers spend two years of their lives working in a developing nation somewhere around the world. This is just a few of the dozen or so of us who attended the concert, but pictured below are Returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in Tanzania, India, Brazil and Bulgaria. 5 people, 4 continents. We were later joined by volunteers who served in the Dominican Republic, Panama and even Iran. And we thought selling watermelon at Comm Fest was fun! Our service is something we’re always happy to talk about, so if you want to hear stories, just yell. We never get tired of telling them!

RPCVs at the CSO

Not surprisingly, it’s always a Peace Corps friend that I run into at concerts – whether that be at the CSO or ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. Speaking of ProMusica, I also learned that a couple of my friends are on their sustaining board. That’s fantastic, don’t you think? Of course at tonight’s free Happy Hour Concert, I’m sure to run into some other Peace Corps friends like I did the last time.

As usual, we started our concert with Christopher Purdy’s pre-concert chat where he told us that a lot of the music being played was written by composers influenced by the music of Wagner.

On the program were:

Jacques Lacombe, conductor

Zuill Bailey, cello

Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1

Dvořák: Cello Concerto

Franck: Symphony in D minor

We were told that basically, it’s a lot of music you don’t know you know.

Under the direction of Quebec native, Maestro Jacques Lacombe, the concert started with Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. This suite began with the Morning Mood which includes the quintessential, calm, relaxing-in-a-meadow kind of melody played by principal flautist Randall Hester. From there it worked its way to the really fun part: In the Hall of the Mountain King. Not sure you know that? Well, I assure you, you do. Last fall I found a great version of this played on, of all things, tesla coils! It was pretty awesome! I’d never seen it performed live and couldn’t help being excited over this version which the CSO played just wonderfully. Some songs are fun to play and others well – as a musician you play them because whoever chose the music chose it. Pas de choix. No choice. For this performance, it sounded like they were having a ton of fun playing it for us!

Moving on to the highlight of the evening, we had the pleasure of hearing Antonin Dvořák’s Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 104, amazingly played by cellist, Zuill Bailey. I had the pleasure of interviewing him earlier that day and learned he was battling the flu the weekend of this performance. You certainly wouldn’t know that because he was just incredible. Wow! He definitely deserved the enthusiastic standing ovation he received!

Mr. Purdy told us that the cello was his favorite instrument. He called it cerebral and thoughtful. It’s a beautiful instrument with such a rich and full sound. As for Dvorak’s cello concerto, I suggest listening to Mr. Bailey’s own words about this wonderful music.

While Mr. Bailey refers to Dvorak’s cello concerto as a “cellist’s most celebrated concerto,” Dvorak himself refers to it altogether differently.

The cello is a beautiful instrument, but its place is in the orchestra and in chamber music.  As a solo instrument, it isn’t much good….I have…written a cello concerto, but am sorry to this day that I did so, and I never intend to write another.

Whatever Dvorak thinks of his own creation, it sure sounded terrific!

The second half of the concert was dedicated to composer Cesar Franck, a composer influenced by Wagner – perhaps in a time it wasn’t overly popular to be influenced by a German composer. That said, Mr. Purdy told us that Franck

…is a composer well worth knowing better.

We learned that Franck tried some new things with regard to symphonic compositions. He helped bring the symphony back to the concert halls in Paris, as opposed to only operas. He tried new things and while some people, particularly the younger, newer musicians, thought it was exciting and wonderful, the older generation thought of it as weird and overbearing, to the point where they would walk out of concerts in anger! Wow! My own budget-minded brain would take the line of thinking that if I paid for a ticket, I should see it through – like it or not. But such thinking was not the case when socially acceptable music wasn’t being performed! Imagine what the musicians thought!

At the end of our pre-concert chat we were jokingly told this:

If you’re a Wagnerian, you’ll have a marvelous time. If not, you’ll get mad!

Well fortunately, I didn’t get mad. This symphony was played well, of course, but the jury’s still out on whether or not I actually liked it. It was nice, but it wasn’t overly memorable to me. There were parts of it I liked – such as the first movement, the Lento-Allegro non troppo, but the melody didn’t stick with me after that. But if Franck is a composer well worth knowing better, then I’m thinking a trip to youtube might be in order to hear some of his other works.

Heck – I didn’t like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me. That means anything’s possible, right?!

Please watch for my interview with Zuill Bailey to be posted later this month.

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