On May 21, the Central Ohio Symphony closed its 2021-22 season with another phenomenal concert. On the program, four very different works, plus a surprise encore.
Unlike the printed program, Peter Buyer’s epic “Ellis Island: America’s Dream” was the first. Since its creation 20 years ago, this seductive work has been performed almost 250 times around the world. Using spoken texts from the Ellis Island Foundation’s Ellis Island Oral History Project as well as contemporary photographic images, the composer has produced a rich tapestry that reflects American history. The music is sometimes eerie as immigrants reminisce about the European Holocaust or the horrific storms on their arduous journeys to America, but the optimistic leitmotif of “freedom,” in major, always shines through as refugees arrive in the New York Harbor and see the Statue of Liberty for the first time. And the composer doesn’t even shy away from using the popular big band style when describing Broadway. “Ellis Island” is an opulent work that brings together classical and popular music, past and present, immigrants and citizens. It is a perfect illustration of the national motto, “E pluribus unum” (“From many, one”). America has always welcomed the foreigner. Many have come to form one united nation. The work ends with a reading of Emma Lazare’s famous sonnet, “The New Colossus”: “Give me your weary, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched wastes of your teeming shore ./Send them, the homeless, storm-tossed, to me.
During the announcements, executive director Warren Hyer thanked the PNC Foundation for their financial support and the Arena Fair Theater for their help in selecting the seven actors. He also recognized the challenges involved in such a large and cooperative undertaking. Despite concerted efforts, however, technical issues with the microphones during rehearsals could not be resolved during the performance. Many viewers enjoyed the highly accessible music, but were disappointed that they couldn’t hear the speakers clearly enough to follow their personal stories. (The vocals are clearer in the video version. Additionally, the full script can be accessed on the Symphony website under “Resources”.)
Brian Raphael Nabors’ “Iubilo” was next on the program. The cheerful and noisy work is devilishly difficult because it involves complicated rhythms. The concert’s “program notes” (by Hillary Fowler) called it “a fanfare”, that is, a short melody played on brass instruments that serves as a solemn introduction. That’s as good a description as any. Another source talks about the “cinematic” effect of the explosive piece. The young African-American composer, born in 1991 and recently graduated with a doctorate. in Music from the University of Cincinnati, is in such high demand these days that he is not currently accepting new orders. What “Iubilo” has in common with “Ellis Island” and subsequent works on the program is that it is intentionally “community” in nature.
The next program was the “Trumpet Concerto” in E flat major by Czech composer Jan/Johann Neruda (ca. 1708-1780). The classical work is for strings and harpsichord (Caroline Salido-Berta) only; all the wind instruments left the stage during this 15-minute piece in three movements: Allegro, Largo and Vivace. The solo trumpeter was Pacho Flores, a world famous musician of Venezuelan origin. The way this versatile grandmaster sounds the horn is out of this world. Not only is the sound he produces clear, pure and brilliant, but he also has healthy lungs as he can play tunes for long periods of time. Plus, he’s a wizard when it comes to fast scales and trills. This was particularly visible in “Concierto de otoño” (Autumn Concerto) by the famous Mexican composer Arturo Márquez (b. 1950), written for Flores. To this day, he is the only trumpeter in the world entitled to perform this fascinating work. The lush centerpiece has three movements: ‘Son de luz’, ‘Balada de floripondios’ and ‘Conga de flores’. The soloist used different trumpets for each movement to express the different colors, flavors and timbres of the season. In “Sound of Light”, he used a C trumpet capable of producing high, bright notes. In the slow second movement he used a flugelhorn which produced pensive and moving tunes and a trumpet cornet in F. The third movement, a driving conga at breakneck speed, required yet another trumpet in D. By the way, the instruments are made especially for Flores by the company Stomvi, located in Spain.
Throughout the pieces he performed, Flores exhibited a laid-back style. On several occasions, he joked lightly with the conductor, Jaime Morales-Matos, a fellow Latin American. Music, for him, is not something to be approached with admiration, fear and concern. Rather, it is a communal and festive affair meant to be enjoyed. The audience appreciated the humor and informality.
Jaime Morales-Matos and Pacho Flores surprised the audience with an encore not on the program: the jazzy “Chega de saudade” (“No More Blues” by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim (also known as “Tom” Jobim) , in an arrangement for trumpet and trombone. While no one plays the trumpet like Pacho Flores, no one plays the trombone like Jaime Morales-Matos, Flores noted. Both musicians have performed on their respective instruments all over the world .
The enthusiastic audience gave the energetic conductor, the solo trumpeter and the entire orchestra a well-deserved standing ovation. All had worked hard during rehearsals to achieve musical perfection. In case you missed the May 21 concert or want to hear it again, it was recorded in its entirety by OWU videographer Elaine Chun and can be viewed on the Orchestra’s website. symphony at www.centralohiosymphony.org.
The Central Ohio Symphony gratefully acknowledges the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, Ohio Arts Council, PNC Foundation, Delaware County, City of Delaware, and Ohio Wesleyan University. Thanks are also due to the musicians and staff of the Symphony Orchestra, subscribers, ticket purchasers, advertisers, donors, sponsors, administrators and volunteers. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. It also takes a community to support a symphony orchestra.
Be sure not to miss the annual 4th of July Concert, Monday, July 4 (7:30 p.m.), on campus at Ohio Wesleyan University. It is free and open to the public. While the program for the 2022-23 season, the 44th of the Symphony Orchestra, is still being finalized, the dates have already been set. The season begins on October 1, followed by a concert on November 19 and the holiday concert on December 11. In the spring of 2023, there will be concerts on March 5 and May 26. The season brochure will be mailed during the summer. For updates, visit www.centralohiosymphony.org.
Local resident Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., taught foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University for more than 30 years. He is now retired. Wolber holds an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano and is passionate about classical music. His email address is [email protected]