Soaring on Wings of Talent
By Bryce Christensen
“If you’re young and talented,” remarked the novelist Haruki Murakami, “it’s like you have wings.” Remarkably young and even more remarkably talented, the four featured soloists at the Orchestra of Southern Utah’s 2012 R.L Halversen Young Artist Concert on Thursday, April 19th, all soared very high on impressively strong wings.
Named for a gifted musician who devoted his life to enriching the musical heritage of Southern Utah University and the surrounding community, the annual Halversen concert showcases rising young local musicians who have won a place on the program through competitive auditions. This year’s honored soloists were Hilary Stavros on the oboe, Taylor Armstrong on the marimba, McKenzie Warren on the violin, and Benjamin Morton on the piano.
To be sure, the evening did not begin on the wings of youthful soloists. Rather the evening began on the powerful pinions of the entire Orchestra of Southern Utah (OSU). Under the inspiring baton of OSU director Xun Sun, the gifted ensemble that has made Cedar City’s Heritage Center a musical mecca once again delighted listeners, this time with Jean Sibelius’ deeply moving Finlandia. Beginning, as it were, from the very bowels of the earth, the deep bass opening notes of this early-20th-century masterpiece signaled the beginning of an ascent into the storm clouds of restless Romanticism, churning with the angst that once fired the hearts of young Finnish nationalists, restive under the oppression of Russian. Voiced by a plaintive chorus of strings and winds, that angst sharpened into the staccato of brass and boiled with the subterranean rumblings of drums, until melting into hymnal serenity, before quickening into the lighting flashes of the luminous conclusion.
But while the seasoned veterans of the orchestra were visiting turbulent musical skies, the talented young guest soloists were stretching their wings off stage, waiting for their turn to take flight. Launching the evening’s youth-soloist portion of the concert, Hilary Stavros carried listeners into the musical stratosphere with her rendition of Oboe Concerto by Vincenzo Bellini. Playing off the languorous harmonies of the orchestra’s stings, Stavros’ poignant oboe song flowed with liquid pathos, before quickening into more kinetic and capricious rhythms. A young virtuoso, Stavros dazzled with a mastery that sustained an impressive maiden flight as an OSU concert soloist.
Impressive flight continued with the second featured soloist, but the feel and cadence modulated as Taylor Armstrong performed the finale from Eric Ewazen’s Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra with irresistible energy and verve. Establishing an animated musical dialogue, Armstrong matched his daring percussionist forays as a soloist against the rich orchestral responses from the entire ensemble, forays and responses ramifying into a marvelous cascade of richly textured music. As the cadence of this number grew ever more taut and vibrant, and ever more insistent, Armstrong drew listeners into an almost feverish transport, until the tone mellowed into a pensive pianissimo—only to erupt again in pyrotechnics that finally coalesce into a concluding passage of majestic splendor. Listeners could only marvel at how such a young performer could deliver both technical skill and interpretive artistry in his artistic flight.
But youthful skill and artistry again fused when Armstrong’s marimba number was followed by McKenzie James Warren’s compelling rendition of the second and third movements of Henri Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor, Op. 37. From the pleading tenderness of the opening notes through a segue of heightening energy and into a plaintive sustained keening, rare talent gave Taylor eagle’s wings for astonishing flight. But his was a flight not only of aery flight but also of fiery descent, as an audacious musical dive carried the audience from the celestial heights of sublime lament into storms of flaming fierceness, before finally gliding into the majestic denouement.
Musical majesty continued to thrill the audience as the final youth soloist of the evening, Benjamin Morton, flew across the keyboard in his rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73, “Emperor.” With masterful command, Morton conveyed the shifting moods of the brilliant German composer--now deliberate, now exuberant; now reflective, now dynamic. As in Armstrong’s marimba solo, Morton’s piano solo established a vivacious dialogue between soloist and orchestra. However, in this number both the soloist’s sorties and the orchestra’s rejoinders maintained a distinctively regal style, opulently baroque at many points, splendidly imperial. Indeed, imperial would be the mot juste for the stunning talent of the young soloist for this number.
Listeners could only marvel at the impressive musical flights of the four talented young featured soloists who performed before intermission. But the marvelous collective endowments of the Orchestra of Southern Utah (OSU)—talents in evidence primarily as backdrop before intermission—moved back into the limelight for the final number of the concert: George Enesco’s Romanian Rhapsody #1. With the sweet trilling of bird songs, the opening of this magical number evokes the feeling of a joyous awakening, an awakening that soon quickens into the celebratory swirlings of dance. At first elegant and courtly, those swirlings grow ever more rapid and frantic, until the wild and tarantella-like choreography finally collapses in blank silence—only to begin anew, softly at first but finally ecstatic.
And as they savored the ecstasy of that conclusion, the audience realized that they had not only witnessed astounding musical flight but that they themselves had shared the musical wings that ascended the heavens.
OSU director Xun Sun once again deserves high praise for preparing the orchestra for such remarkable musical flight. Likewise deserving of high praise are the individual musicians whose talents lent listeners such powerful musical wings. And the individual musicians worthy of particular praise are the evening’s four young soloists. Such young talent ensures that the Heritage Center will be a musical aerie for many years to come!