November 5, 2016
By W. Gerald Cochran

Hickory – The Western Piedmont Symphony presented its second Masterworks concert of the 52nd season at Drendel Auditorium of the Catawba Valley Arts and Science Center with a concert titled “Classical Critters,” so called because each of the works performed made reference to one or more animals. A slightly abbreviated version of the program was presented earlier in the afternoon as a children’s concert, which, by all reports, was a resounding success.

wpsThe program opened with what is probably the best-known piece of classical music – “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” from the opera Tsar Sultan by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). It is known for its frenetic pace of chromatic runs of sixteenth notes, but everyone was able to keep the buzz going, especially flute soloist Laura Stevens and clarinet soloist Doug Miller.

Franz Josef Haydn wrote 104 symphonies; his Symphony No. 82 in C, H 1/82, gained the subtitle “The Bear,” because the fourth movement reminded listeners of dancing bears, which were popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, about the time that this was written. It is a festive work, with rapid tempos throughout, and the music is happy, just like we picture dancing bears.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, was one of three full-length ballets that he wrote. Igor Stravinsky arranged the “Bluebird Pas de Deux” for small orchestra in 1941 for the American Ballet Theatre. In the ballet, the Bluebird is teaching the Princess Florine how to fly. The choreography requires the most proficient dancers to perform. In this arrangement, the bluebird is depicted by the flute, again played with great beauty by Laura Stevens.

By far, the hit of the evening was Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67, by Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953). For many of us, it returned us to our childhood and our early introduction to classical music. It is the story of Peter, who lives in a forest clearing with his grandfather. Peter goes out into the clearing, leaving the gate open. The duck goes swimming in the pond, then starts arguing with the bird, while the cat quietly stalks them both. Peter warns them about the cat and the bird flies up into a tree and the duck swims to the middle of the pond. Peter’s grandfather scolds him about being out in the meadow alone, lest a wolf come out of the forest, which, very shortly, he does. The wolf winds up swallowing the duck and is then captured by Peter using a noose to get around its tail. Hunters then emerge from the forest and want to shoot the wolf, but Peter talks them into helping him take the wolf to a zoo, and the piece concludes with a victory parade.

Each of the characters is represented by a different instrument: flute for the bird, clarinet for the cat, oboe for the duck, bassoon for the grandfather, hunters by the woodwinds and muted trumpet, with gunshots by timpani and percussion, Peter by the strings and the wolf by three French horns. This was to introduce children to the various instruments of the orchestra. Once again, the soloists, Laura Stevens, flute, Anna Morris, oboe, Doug Miller, clarinet, and Paige West-Smith, bassoon, played their roles with great beauty and virtuosity, as did the other orchestra members. Hal Row, well-known local radio talk show host, provided the narration with balanced parts of drama and levity, as the situation required. In all, it was a fun performance for everyone.