From Bach to the Beatles
By Lynn Taylor
The Southwest Washington Symphony, under the direction of Ryan Heller, opened its 2011-2012 season with the Star Spangled Banner. Mr. Heller directed the orchestra and the audience. Brian Smith, the principal trumpet, played a high descant that always makes our national anthem extra special.
The Symphony’s fall Pops Concert was titled "From Bach to the Beatles." The first of four Bach pieces was by Johann Sebastian Bach, father of them all. His Orchestral Suite No.4 is a precusor to what would become the classical symphonic form. The opening movement was one of constant motion for the strings and the oboes. If the oboe players were out of breath when the tempo slowed just before the end, they hid it well. The Bourees were lively tunes with exciting trumpet fanfares interspersed. In the Gavotte the strings played together with the oboes and trumpets on top. In the final movement of the suite, called Rejouissance, there were uplifting, joyous trumpet fanfares. There was a conversation between the oboes and the trumpets as they traded melody lines, and then the strings would take it and expand it.
Symphony in F Major
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was J.S. Bach’s second child. Today we heard his Symphony in F major. The first movement is another one of constant motion in the strings. The oboes and flutes play together, and then alternately. There were nice contrasts of the oboes with the violas followed by the flutes and cellos. The movement ends with a slow, discordant scale by the strings that leads into the slow second movement with the emphasis on the low strings. The violins played as though they were periodically “checking in” with the lower strings. The final presto movement was a brisk, rollicking, foot-tapping tune with rolling crescendi and decrescendi. The French horns added subtle support to the rest of the orchestra.
Johann Christian Bach was twenty years younger than his brother Carl. He wrote an overture to the opera Artaserse. The overtures of that day were designed to get the audience’s attention prior to the start of the opera. The music in the overture often had nothing to do with the music of the opera itself. The Allegro opens with the French horns calling and the oboes answering. There is a lovely segment where the orchestra builds a chord, with each section adding a note. The movement ends with the strings demonsrtating the best part of symphonic music-playing in unison and sounding truly as one. The Andante was lyrical with the flutes adding a bird song quality. The final Allegro rolled along in a quick three beat count.
The “last and oddest of J.S. Bach’s twenty-odd children” is the composer known as P.D.Q. Bach. He is actually the creation of composer Peter Schickele. His composition The Seasonings alternates between well-composed classical music and musical jokes based on classical music. This is a choral work with multiple puns in the lyrics, musical themes borrowed from other composers, and instruments not normally included in symphony orchestras: kazoos, slide whistles, a shower hose, and a tromboon (a trombone played with the mouthpiece of a bassoon). The vocalists sang well and took their parts very seriously in spite of their costumes and some of the unusual sounds their parts called for. The musicians also played well, whether their usual instrument, or something new to them. This is clearly not the work of an amateur. It is well-written music with a sense of humor.
Brian Smith, trumpet soloist
After the intermission, one of the symphony’s own took a place in the front of the orchestra instead of his usual seat in the back row. Brian Smith, principal trumpet, played the solo in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat. Unlike J.S. Bach, Haydn had no children, but is frequently referred to as “Papa.” Before he started to play, Mr. Smith appeared as though he were more comfortable in the back of the symphony than in front of it. Once he started to play, however, it didn’t seem to matter where he was. His notes were clear and concise. The forte notes weren’t overblown. He played with an agility especially evident on the cadenza at the close of the first movement. The second movement was slow and melodic with flawlessly played ornamentation. Mr. Smith reached the high notes with intention, not strain. The solo trumpet of Mr. Smith was not the only trumpet playing in this piece. The two trumpets remaining in the back row played subtly in the background, often leading into the solo.
All You Need Is Love
The last piece on the written program was a medley of Beatles tunes arranged by Bruce Healey. We tend to think of the Beatles as “rock and roll.” but many of their melodies lend themselves very well to orchestration. Others are easy to “jazz” up, or can become very brassy.
The symphony treated us to an encore: theme and variations based on The Russian Sailor’s Dance. The theme started in the cellos and basses. The violas joined in along with a subtle tap on the tambourine. Then the winds and violins played over a low pizzicato. The additon of the brass increased the tempo. The melody became low and slow again before returning to the winds over pizzicato strings and culminating in a fast and furious tempo with the full orchestra..
The Southwest Washington Symphony is always a treat to listen to Everyone who wasn’t at today’s concert missed something special, and should be marking their calendars for the next concert: January 29, 2012, 3 p.m. at the Wollenberg Auditorium at LCC Rose Center for the Arts. Hope to see you all there!
Did you attend the concert? If so, what was your favorite part? Did you enjoy the PDQ Bach number? Please add your comment in the space below.
Lynn Taylor is a veterinarian and a reformed violin player who now plays the oboe, with a wide variety of music genres on her iPod that she listens to while training for 5K and 10K fun runs.