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Fox Valley Symphony closes season with a vivid 'Sunset'

May 7, 2011

The Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra closed out its 2010-11 season Saturday night with a curious blend of pieces.

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach opened the program, but not Bach as we know him, but rather, Bach orchestrated by the conductor Leopold Stowkowski.

First stated by the solo oboe, the theme of Fugue in G minor, begins to unfold in the wind section and winds its way through the orchestra until the entire ensemble brings the fugue to a rousing close. Stowkowski set many of Bach's works for orchestra. While listening to these orchestrations, we must remember to treat them as new and different works, rather than their keyboard originals. As, in this case, a romantic Bach, full of rich sonorities brilliantly tossed about the orchestra.

Another orchestration, of sorts, followed; Chris Brubeck's orchestration of Dave Brubeck’s piano composition "Ansel Adams: AMERICA." This piece featured a slide show of several of Ansel Adams' photographs displayed on a large screen above the orchestra. The photographs themselves were quite stunning, the music less so.

For the most part, Brubeck’s score provided little more than background music to the slides. On a few rare occasions, the score managed to come to the fore and provide some musical relevance.

I was, however, particularly attracted to the opening chords; the expansive sounds, the sense of space and openness, not too much unlike what we would hear in Copland's populists works. Other strong moments included the periodic piano solos, and the Latin section that supported a series of desert photographs.

Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite filled the second half of the program. This piece is undoubtedly Grofe's most well known work and provides numerous moments of fine orchestration. Composed in five movements, this programmatic piece creates a vivid realization of a day in the life of the Grand Canyon.

The first movement, "Sunrise," opens with unfolding layers of sound in the strings. This if followed by abstract colors in "Painted Desert," which leads to the most famous of the movements, "On the Trail." Concertmaster Yuliya Smead played the opening cadenza marvelously. Many members of the orchestra were featured in solos.

The humor of "On the Trail" is replaced with the simplicity of "Sunset." Multiple orchestral colors make this movement come alive. No programmatic piece about nature would seemingly be complete without a rainstorm. Enter "Cloudburst," the final movement. Filled with percussion and brass, it is the strings that offered beauty and stability to the piece.

On a different note, I must take a moment to wish happy trails to Marta Weldon, who after seven years as executive director of the FVSO, is leaving for a position with the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music. Your presence will be missed.

- James Chaudoir For The Post-Crescent

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