GREATEST HITS, cont.

 

Rosemary Maione

". . . our first concert at Hahn Hall [of the Music Academy of the West]." That concert opened "with a simple arrangement of 'Wondrous Love' with an oboe solo by first-year oboist Sarah Kamida, followed by Mozart's "Symphony #10" with our founding 19 musicians. What a great memory of the start of this adventure."

Michael acknowledges "being a great Copland fan," which is "why the orchestra has quite a Copland history." For the opening concert of this year the orchestra reprised the complete ballet suite “Billy the Kid,” also a part of its repertoire five seasons ago. In previous years they have performed several of Aaron Copland's other American themed classics—such as “Rodeo Suite,” “Letter from Home,” and “Lincoln Portrait”—as well as the beloved sections of “Appalachian Spring.” "I suppose it is the delightful and accessible complexity of Copland's music that draws me to it," Michael states. "I say delightful because his music, at least from the time of 'Billy the Kid' forward, is full of melody and an open signature harmonic sound. He is not afraid of dissonance, but he treats it with specific purpose and character that reveals an emotional or pictorial truth, and always gives back to the listener some sense of resolution after deploying it. The complexity comes in ways that the casual listener probably feels more than perceives, as he creates intricate orchestrations that bring forward unique colors of sound and layers rhythmic figures in incredibly imaginative ways. These are things that a conductor just keeps discovering every time the score is revisited, studied or conducted."

Last summer's tour also gave the orchestra the "extraordinary" chance to perform Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” in Italy. It's a festive endeavor, with bugles that the Russian composer presumably heard during a visit to a carnival in Rome, or while staying across the lagoon from a military barracks in Venice, or while on holiday in Tuscany, depending on where in Italy you are hearing the story told. On the other hand, some of the most reflective and emotionally resonant pieces performed by the orchestra have been chosen for the annual Christmas Festival. Michael specifically recalls the Vaughan Williams “Dona nobis pacem,” with “its transcendent music and powerful prophetic texts," as an exceptional blend of choir and orchestra. The cantata—translated as "Give us peace"—was composed just three years before World War II erupted, which makes its anti-war sentiments more acute and forlorn. The piece fuses words from the Roman Catholic mass, the Civil War poetry of Walt Whitman, and the heartache of Jeremiah. It fills a Christmas celebration with a hope carved from sorrow.

“The orchestra began with the hope and intention to make a statement about the sophistication of Westmont’s robust commitment to the liberal arts and to excellence," Michael asserts. For a decade it has done that, rising from a small chamber group of under 20 to a full orchestra of more than five dozen. This year we can celebrate that inaugural decade and the rich maturation of the program. October’s concert began with a new adaptation by alum Daniel Gee of a hymn that could serve as the theme for the anniversary: “To God Be the Glory.”