West Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s “Classical Majesty” concert was held at The Clay Center’s Maier Foundation Performance Hall this past weekend and featured guest violinist Corey Cerovsek.
Maestro Grant Cooper led his orchestra through performances of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis,” Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 5, K. 219,” and Antonín Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88.”
The “Classical Majesty” theme centered on musical architecture, focusing on pieces structured around classical principles. Each of the compositions also had some kind of connection to the past, whether it be the influence of a particular composer or a certain style.
I was disappointed that the pre-performance “Preludes” discussion by Conductor Grant Cooper didn’t include its usual insights into the composers and compositions. Instead, it consisted entirely of a mostly biographical interview with guest violinist Corey Cerovsek. The conversation regarding Cerovsek’s background was a little dry for my taste, but I did enjoy the demonstration of his vintage Stradivarius.
“Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” (a.k.a. “The Tallis Fantasia”) by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was written in 1910 and revised in 1919. The piece has been featured in several movies, including Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and inspired the score to Field of Dreams.
The Tallis Fantasia is a variation on a melody originally written by sixteenth century English composer Thomas Tallis. I realize the majority of my readers are not well-versed in classical music, so a modern comparison to this would be when a pop or rap star samples a classic tune – not a true cover, but an incorporation of an older song into a new, original work.
Vaughn Williams was first drawn to Tallis’ theme while researching liturgical material – Thomas Tallis was one of the earliest composers to write for the non-Roman Anglican liturgical service. Tallis also enjoyed a long association with the English royal family during the reign of Elizabeth I.
The work was composed for a double string orchestra, so the WV Symphony was reduced to just the string players for the duration of the piece. After a brief introduction by long-time trumpet player David Porter, Maestro Cooper dedicated the evening’s performance to recently departed symphony supporter Mary Price and gave a moment of silence in her honor.
The piece’s focus on strings – as well as its Elizabethan influence – creates a serene, almost hymnal quality. The Fantasia ebbs and flows with sweeping cinematic flourishes that gracefully pull back into quieter moments of beauty.
I had never heard of Mary Price until last night, but I can think of no better tribute to anyone than the flawless performance the WV Symphony gave of Vaughn Williams’ gorgeous work.
Violin soloist Corey Cerovsek joined the orchestra for the performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 5, K. 219.” The orchestra remained reduced to the string section, with the addition of two oboe players and two horn players.
The concerto begins with the entire ensemble playing the main theme before the solo violinist takes the lead. The final movement includes references to Turkish music, alluding to the failed 1683 Turkish assault on Vienna.
I’ll skip the biographical comments on the composer this time since most people are familiar with Mozart whether they like classical music or not. I’ve personally never understood why Mozart is so widely considered to be the equal, or in some cases the superior, of Beethoven. I guess it’s like what they say about people either being fans of The Beatles or Elvis – I like The Beatles and Mozart, but I love Elvis and Beethoven. At any rate, the work itself is not one of my favorites, but I would enjoy hearing the WVSO perform just about anything.
And it must be said that guest violinist Corey Cerovsek did a splendid job of staying in harmony with the rest of the orchestra while still standing out enough to make the piece interesting. As much as I love Joshua Bell, I think his recording of the same concerto falls flat because his violin blends in too much with the other musicians.
Cerovsek’s performance earned him a standing ovation, which prompted an encore, which prompted another standing ovation, which prompted another encore, which prompted another standing ovation. I’m not kidding. The elderly members of the audience looked exhausted by the time he finally left the stage.
The orchestra returned to its full size for Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88.” The four-movement Symphony was one of the more exhilarating pieces I’ve heard the symphony play, with its heady mix of bouncing jubilance (particularly the cheery “bird call” theme in the first movement) and bombastic bursts of drama in the finale. The performance was beautiful, uplifting, and absolutely sublime.
I was six years old when I first attended the symphony in the mid-1980s. I remember having an intense feeling of wonder and awe at what seemed to be such an immense, powerful force…the same thing I felt when I visited the ocean for the first time the year before. Two decades later, I still feel the same way.
Cameras and recording devices were prohibited, so I have no audio or photographs from this performance to share. But I did find videos elsewhere…
Ralph Vaughan Williams – The Tallis Fantasia (YouTube video)
Mozart – Violin Concerto No. 5 (YouTube video)
Antonín Dvořák – Symphony No. 8 (YouTube video)
Buy Vaughan Williams @ Amazon
Buy Mozart @ Amazon
Buy Dvořák @ Amazon
WV Symphony Official Site