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Concert Celebrates the “Mother of the Symphony” PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 05 April 2005 18:00
Horacio Gutierrez demonstrated his talent on the piano, creating beautiful music with each touch of his hands to the instrument. But he wasn’t the only pianist lauded by the audience at the Quad City Symphony Orchestra concert on Saturday.

This concert was dedicated to Elsie Von Maur, a talented pianist and an avid Quad City Symphony supporter who, according to many who have known her, is the “mother of the symphony,” a “visionary,” and a “rock of cultural stability.” The dedication of this concert to Elsie, who will turn 104 this year, gave the experience a more meaningful aura, as I thought about the beauty of the symphony and the dedication of the woman who helped make it possible.

The final concert of the symphony’s 90th season began with a whimsical piece by Cindy McTee: Circuits – A Concert Overture for Orchestra. The percussionists got a workout with this piece, banging intermittently on cowbells, metal plates, wood blocks, a vibraphone, and a glockenspiel. The rhythmic, sharp cracks produced by the percussion section were accompanied by cartoon-like melodies, which were passed throughout the orchestra. A modern piece that was just plain fun, Circuits got the night rolling.

Next, Horacio Gutierrez joined the orchestra for Sergei Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3 in C Major for Piano & Orchestra, Op. 26. I appreciated Gutierrez’s skill and sensitivity, but I don’t think the piece was supposed to be enjoyable. Dissonance, hard melodies, and what the program calls “deliberate grotesquery” made the piece hard to listen to. Gutierrez, who has played with major orchestras worldwide, pounded, slapped, coaxed, ripped, and prodded the notes from the piano as the orchestra raced alongside.

The final piece of the season was Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14, by Hector Berlioz. This beautiful, feel-good music was an enjoyable, fun end to the evening. Berlioz wrote this piece as an outlet for his feelings about a romance with a woman, as he experiences – among other things – the joy of falling in love, the realization that his love is unrequited, and a dream in which she follows him to the gallows and is present as witches and demons celebrate his death.

“Reveries & Passions,” the first movement, was full of transitions from frenzied runs to laid-back melodies. At one point, conductor Donald Schleicher whipped the orchestra to a full musical frenzy and, when it arrived at the peak, he cut it off for a dramatic moment of silence before the build-up began once again.

The second movement, “A Ball”, fittingly introduced a fast waltz near the beginning and developed into another high-speed ending that would exhaust any dancer.

The next movement transported the audience to “A Scene in the Country,” in which the images continued. Two oboists called to each other, one from off-stage, followed by a beautiful melody by the violins. Near the end of the piece, the oboe once again began calling, but this time the tympani answered with foreboding thunder. Three or four percussionists were crowded behind the tympani, all helping to produce the very real-sounding thunder with a carefully orchestrated mixture of rolls, strikes, and patterns.

The final two movements of the evening took a macabre turn as Berlioz describes his dream. “March to the Scaffold” is a theme and variation dominated by loud brass, a haunting clarinet solo, and an unnerving splatting trombone.

The final movement, “A Witches’ Sabbath,” was the most interesting piece of the evening. Starting with an eerie, mischievous melody, the music was accented with wispy, unearthly sounds. The clarinet’s melody returned with another, distorted rendition of the theme. The flute created a whistle-y sound as it fell from one octave to the one below. And the strings tapped their bow against the strings, also creating an airy, eerie effect. The entire movement was an apt musical description of the stereotypical witch’s party.

At the end of the night, as I walked into the spring evening air, I felt what I’m sure Elsie Von Maur would have wanted. I felt that I was a better person for having heard the beauty of classical music performed by the talented musicians of the Quad City Symphony.
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