This past weekend in the Grand Opera House audiences were treated to the second Masterworks concert given by the Macon Symphony Orchestra.
The orchestra and new music director/conductor Ward Stare had a busy week. In addition to their usual couple of intense rehearsals for the subscription concert, they hosted hundreds of elementary school children on Friday for a series of special kid-friendly concerts.
These kiddie concerts have been offered for many years as the orchestra exposes youngsters to the world of symphonic music. One of Stares many strengths is his priority for music education and the ability to relate to audiences of all ages. Although I missed the age cutoff for this particular field trip, I can well imagine Stares enthusiasm captivating the young audiences.
Stare doesnt confine his exuberance to the young. He offers audiences a rare look behind the scenes in short commentary and discussion at 6:30 p.m. each concert night. Whether you are a seasoned musicologist or one of those of whom Sir Thomas Beecham complained, dont like music (but) just like the noise it makes, Stare uses his charm and energy to help the audience appreciate what they came to hear. If you have not yet attended one of these, I recommend them highly.
Saturday evenings program had something for everyone, as many orchestral favorites were paired with the more weighty Hindemith Mathis der Maler, a symphonic work based on a series of religious paintings as seen through the eyes of the painter. Although challenging for some audience members, the orchestra performed the sweeping themes with a breadth and majesty I found invigorating.
The more popular pieces were a huge hit with the audience. Try this little quiz: Look up Dance of the Hours by Ponchielli on YouTube and shut your eyes and listen. Do you see images in your head of dancing hippos in tutus, a rainy day at Camp Grenada or nothing at all?
If you see hippos, you are probably between the ages of 25 and 50. If a summer camp comes to mind (with a chuckle), you are over 50. If nothing comes to mind at all, you are probably under 25 and really need to come to a symphony concert and pre-concert discussion to hear what all the fuss is about. I guarantee you will hear something you like.
Yes, all of the shorter works on the program were familiar because they were used in cartoons. But to relegate them to background noise for Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny is to shortchange these gems.
For example, most of us are familiar with the Lone Ranger theme and its galloping pace. Fewer of us know that is simply a sound byte from a more substantial work -- the Overture to Rossinis opera William Tell.
Opera is highly dramatic and this overture runs the gamut of human drama. The plaintive cello solo that begins the piece was particularly beautiful and poignantly played last Saturday by principal cellist Barbara Altman. There is also a wonderful English horn solo that was sensitively interpreted by Rebecca Collins.
Other short works included the Liszt Second Rhapsody, and Dukas The Sorcerers Apprentice. The evening finished with Gershwins An American in Paris with its clear depiction of noisy car horns and streets full of pedestrians and cars. This work gave several members of the orchestra small solo parts and a substantial solo by concert master and violinist Jason Economides. These cameo solos displayed yet again the tremendous artistry of these fine instrumentalists, particularly our own concert master.