A grand night for revelry
Revelry /'re-vl-rç/ noun 1. lively and noisy festivities.
Opening night for a symphony series is always a challenge to program because it is customary to start the season off with a big bang. Music that exemplifies exciting concert-openers and concert-enders are critical for creating the celebratory atmosphere that people seek on this special night.
This year, the first concerts of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra season, 8 p.m. Oct. 12 and 3 p.m. Oct. 13, Miller Symphony Hall, 23, N. Sixth St., Allentown, are called: "Opening Revelry." The word "revelry" refers to "a grand celebration," but it also happens to be the name of the first piece on the program written by the American, New York-based, composer Lowell Liebermann. I first met Lowell many years ago and have admired his music ever since.
Liebermann's music has great audience appeal and it is virtuosic for the orchestra to perform. His piece, "Revelry for Orchestra," was written in 1995 for the 70th anniversary of the Westchester, N.Y., Symphony. Xylophone, Slap-stick, Police Whistle, Rachet and Brakedrum are just a few of the percussion instruments that make this piece so much fun. It is fast, exciting and tuneful; everything that makes a great opening piece. In programming it, I knew that it would set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Paired with "Revelry" on the first half of the concert, I selected the "Grieg Piano Concerto." I have fond memories of this concerto because the opening, Bach-like, cadenza was the only thing that my father could play on the piano. I don't know when, or how he learned it, but he could certainly impress people by playing those arpeggios and scales.
Edvard Grieg, was a Norwegian composer (1843 - 1907) known for capturing the lyrical and tuneful simplicity of his homeland. The beautiful, sentimental second movement is nicely contrasted with the dance rhythms of the lively final movement.
The piano concerto was written in 1868 when Grieg was just 25-years-old. I think back to what I was doing when I was 25-years-old. I certainly wasn't writing a piano concerto that would still be played 145 years later.
Awadagin Pratt, our piano soloist, is known for his unique interpretations and for the freshness and vitality of his concert performances. He won first prize in the Naumburg International Piano Competition and he also received an Avery Fisher Career Grant. He was named "One of the 50 Leaders of Tomorrow" in Ebony magazine's 50th anniversary issue. You won't want to miss hearing his live performance of the "Grieg Piano Concerto."
My favorite piece on the program is Symphony No. 2 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The piece oscillates between warm, heartfelt melodies and a meandering brooding with a Gregorian chant-like feel. The most memorable movement, however, is the finale.
Throughout this piece, we feel like we are on a journey, similar to life with lots of ups and downs, challenges and releases. The last movement is one of triumphant and joy. With its trumpet calls and fanfares, it marks this arrival point with confidence and builds throughout to a grand conclusion.
Exciting beginnings, exciting endings, make for a great opening night. Throw in the middle a famous piano soloist who has flair and style, performing a piece that has lived through the test of time, and you have one incredible evening.
Add to that the expertise, musical passion and dedication of the 75 members of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra and you have an historic event: "Opening Revelry" a wild, noisy celebration.
Diane Wittry is Music Director-Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director (USA), International Cultural Exchange Program for Classical Musicians, Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia; and author, "Beyond the Baton" (Oxford University Press).
Concert tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown, AllentownSymphony.org, 610-432-6715