Monday, April 23, 2012

April Concert Review

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!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Season Finale

We're excited to present four outstanding young musicians as soloists with the Orchestra of Southern Utah on Thursday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Heritage Center.  Help us spread the word. 

Congratulations to Taylor Armstrong who won first place in marimba at the Utah Day of Percussion Competition.  He is one of our soloists for the R.L. Halversen Young Artists Concert

Congratulations also to Lydia Bradshaw who has been selected as a semi-finalist for the upcoming Southern California Marimba Competition.  She has played  percussion with OSU in several concerts.

From the latest Symphony magazine from the League of American Orchestras:

Nashville-based singer/songwriter Ben Folds has built a stellar career as a bandleader and hitmaker on the pop charts. So why is he returning to his symphonic roots and performing with orchestras?

"Our society and culture are dependent upon people working together in concert, in harmony, with focus and purpose.  In 30 seconds of watching the news, we get the message loud and clear:  people can't work together, whether it's Congress or the airport.  What a ridiculous notion.  Go to the symhony this weekend and wash that idea out of your head!  The symphony orchestra is a major column at the core of our civilization, not a luxury or a special-interest art form.  When it goes, so shall we!  And what could be more inspiring than 80-some dedicated musicians, focusing their lives of discipline generously and passionately to create something beautiful.  There never was a time when we were in great need of such an example of people working together.  In concert."

Come and join OSU for our season finale and enjoy the power of Finlandia by Sibelius and an energetic Roumanian Rhapsody by Enesco as well as soloists  Hilary Stavros, oboe; Benjamin Morton, piano; McKenzie Warren, violin; and Taylor Armstrong, marimba.  Xun Sun provides the musical leadership and the musicians invite you to share a wonderful evening of great music.  Thanks to all involved with our season.

More information in the article below or at

Thursday, April 5, 2012

New Horn for Debbie

We love the tenacity and dedication of the Orchestra of Southern Utah musicians.  Debbie Nollan developed a tendon problem so she has an "adaptive" horn which is played with  the opposite hand position.  She is going to play Finlandia on April 19, no matter what.  The photo of Debbie is from last summer before the injury.

From Debbie:

Got my "new" horn today.  A hobbiest in Michigan took a single Bb horn apart, and put it back together in mirror image.  He had to change the bend in 3 pipes.  I practiced for the first time in 4 weeks, and without pain.  It'll take a bit of getting used to as I have to set up my body in a totally different way and I have to think Bb horn even though I'm not pulling a thumb valve.  Now I can resume my playing and heal up that tendon at the same time.

I will have to figure out how to reupholster the case to accommodate this horn.

We wish her a speedy recovery and appreciate her great contribution to our orchestra.  She also manages the Color Country Winds so woodwind and brass players can keep performing throughout the summer and fall.