The Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra closed out its 2012-13 concert season Saturday night in the Pine Bluff Convention Center auditorium with ‘Classics in the Popular Vein.’
Under the direction of PBSO music director and conductor Charles Jones Evans, the orchestra entertained an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred with works composed by the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Liszt.
Leading off the performance the orchestra performed Overture to the opera, The Abduction from The Seraglio, K. 384 (1782) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“This piece took advantage of the popularity of Turkish themes at the time,” Jones Evans said. “The Turks had recently been routed and the exoticism of the Ottoman Empire was quite popular in Europe.”
The symphony performed with the usual exquisite precision, bringing the fast-paced rhythms and harmonies of the piece to life. The percussion section is given quite a workout with drums, cymbals and triangle prevalent. The excitement of the opening movement moves into a slower, muted piece that again gives way to the frenetic fast-paced rhythms that led off the overture.
The second piece, Concertino for Oboe and String Orchestra (1946) by Lille Bror Soderlundh, featured guest artist Lorraine Duso Kitts, an associate professor at the University of Central Arkansas, on the oboe.
Duso Kitts, who regularly plays principal oboe for the PBSO, made her way through the opening Allegro, followed by the Andante sostenuto-Allegro-Tempo I and the concluding Allegro.
“Soderlundh created a fusion of Gershwinesque jazzy elements with more classical components that convey an easy tunefulness,” Jones Evans said. “His work appeared in more than twenty film scores.”
Duso Kitts soared up and down the range of notes available to her with an ease and poise that belied the technical proficiency required for such a performance.
In an instrument famous for inopportune squeaks and squawks nothing but the purest of notes could be heard emanating from the oboe of Duso Kitts.
The PBSO string section was the second featured part of the piece as would be expected given the title.
The frequent crescendo of the strings brought the auditory component of a true cinematic experience into reality.
As the crescendo rose it was the oboe of Duso Kitts that rose above it all.
Emperor Waltzes, Op. 437 (1889) by Johann Strauss Jr. left no doubt as to the fact that it was written to please a royal audience.
“The piece was written to celebrate the detente that existed at the time between Franz Joseph of Austria and Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany,” Jones Evans said.
The PBSO beautifully performed the piece, as it conjured images of royal palaces and troops under review by their monarch.
The first post-intermission selection was Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (1850) by Franz Liszt.
Jones Evans said that parts of the Rhapsody would be instantly recognizable to almost anyone who has watched a Looney Tunes cartoon as proof of the complete blending of this piece into popular culture.
“Liszt created a piece full of the Gypsy music that he enjoyed so much from his native Hungary,” Jones Evans said.
The PBSO performed Rhapsody with all of the expected flourishes. The flute and violin sections made the performance one to remember.
With Wood Notes Suite, after poems of J. Mitchell Pilcher (1948) by William Grant Still, the PBSO beautifully performed this piece created by a man known as “The Dean of Afro-American Composers” and in so doing delighted the audience.
Still wrote his Suite to bring a new perspective to the sentimental poems of Pilcher that are centered around his life in the southern United States.
The opening part, Singing River: Moderately slow, employs the sound of chimes and the sweeping movements of the string section to create images of bucolic nature in the mind of the listener.
This is followed by the slightly ominous sounds of Autumn Night: Lightly, a piece which evokes a chill wind that sends leaves flying into the air under dark skies.
Finally, the Suite is rounded out by Whippoorwill’s Shoes: Humorously, intended to create a sense of whimsy and playfulness most clearly embodied by the sound of the bassoon which had the spotlight in this movement.
The final selection of the PBSO concert season was Overture to the opera, William Tell (1829) by Gioacchino Rossini, which includes another indelible piece of popular culture in the form of the piece of music forever associated with the Lone Ranger.
It is a wonderful multi-part Overture which begins very much with the cellos as the day dawns calmly but with a foreshadowing of trouble to come created by slow timpani rolls evoking distant thunder.
The second section entitled Storm, is everything one would expect of a tempest. The PBSO performance creates the sound of fierce gales lashing the landscape using flute, piccolo and violin. The height of the storm is brought to life with the French horns, trumpets, trombones and the bass drum. As the volume begins to decrease so to does the storm subside until we are left with the sound of a lone flute.
Next we come to the calm after the storm with the French horn, the flute and the often under-appreciated triangle creating a sense of lush serenity where you can almost see the sun’s rays highlight a drop of rainwater glistening upon a leaf.
In the Finale, the full orchestra led by the trumpet section created the famous notes that have forever blended the classical tradition with the popular culture icon of the Lone Ranger.
And with that the 2012-13 PBSO concert season came to a rousing and successful close.