Monday, February 29, 2016

"Thanks for an excellent performance!"

Thanks to everyone involved in the "Rhythm of the Sea" concert.
(Photos by Pamela Gilbert and Sara Penny unless otherwise noted)

SUU Polynesian Club Dancers with OSU Conductor Xun Sun at intermission.
Thanks to Ben Fuller, Jennifer Paltrineri, and Steve Downs for the great lobby music

Pete Akins before the concert.

OSU Manager Emily Hepworth with Chorale members after the concert.
Melissa Leavitt, OSU Education Director, and George Grohs before the concert.

Katherine Lee Maxwell, violin soloist, with conductor Xun Sun, and harpist Kendra Leavitt.
Dr. Sun with Chorale Director Jackie Jackson and Suzanne Tegland.

Katherine Lee Maxwell warms up during intermission.

Dr. Sun with siblings Katherine Lee Maxwell and composer Jabog Lee and their mother Caroleen Lee,who also plays in OSU.

Flutes warm up at intermission.

OSU President Harold Shirley and Toanui Tawa

SUU Polynesian Dancers performed at concert (photo by Gina Fossile from SUU News)
Lee/Campbell family with Dr. Sun.  The violinist and composer are children of Caroleen and Allan Lee and grandchildren of Hal and Joan Campbell.

Final bows (photo by Steve Yates)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Entranced by the Musical Magic of the Sea

Concert Review by Bryce Christensen
            “The sea,” declared Jacques Yves Cousteau, “once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”  With the tang of seawater in the air at Cedar City’s Heritage Center, Polynesian decorations hanging in the Center’s foyer, and leis around the necks of both musicians and concert goers, the wondrous spell of the sea was strong for the Orchestra of Southern Utah’s concert devoted to the theme of “The Rhythm of the Sea” the evening of February 25th.  Invited aboard the good ship HMS OSU by OSU President Harold Shirley during his welcoming remarks, the hundreds of music lovers in attendance relished the musical delight of visiting sea vistas in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and the Arabian Sea.
            The evening’s symphonic seafaring began with a visit to Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean.  Transported to the land of the rhumba, salsa, and flamenco by George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, the audience swayed to a mesmerizing Latin beat.  This brisk and vibrant number subsided briefly into relative calm (perhaps a refreshing siesta) but then the orchestra—refreshed by un minuto de Descanso-- leaped into a lively dance pace, whirling faster and faster into the choreographed finale.  Under the always-inspiring baton of maestro Xun Sun, the entire orchestra caught the spirit of this number from Cuba’s sun-bathed shores, the versatile percussion section deserving special praise for infecting the entire audience with a cadence of sassy Cuban insouciance.
            Staying in the Caribbean, listeners temporarily left behind the good ship HMS OSU to board a bandit ship flying the Jolly Roger, so venturing into dangerous waters where swash-buckling pirates rule.  Through Klaus Badelt’s medley of scores from Hollywood’s Pirates of Caribbean movies, listeners joined buccaneers intent on deeds of derring-do on the Spanish Main.  Even if real pirate life was not quite the nonstop series of adventures scripted for the screen, this exciting cinema number conveyed the taunt sense of great dangers bravely met by the reckless outlaws of the sea. In a performance electric with the drama of battles on the high seas, Sun and the OSU musicians put enthralled listeners at the rail, catching the sea spray, as they leaned over the ship rail with Jack Sparrow, keen to glimpse the first hint of the next hair-raising new exploit. (Who knew that Maestro Sun could channel an inner Johnny Depp?)
            Not pirates but Polynesian dancers next commanded the attention of the audience, as they again boarded the HMS OSU, bound for New Zealand, Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, and the other South Sea Islands that the Polynesians call home.  A small but talented troupe of dancers from Southern Utah University’s Polynesian Club brought to the Heritage Center Stage the grace and dynamism of dances quite unlike those of European or American ballrooms.  Dancing sometimes in mixed-gender choreography, sometimes in exclusively male or exclusively female groups, this troupe performed a half dozen numbers ranging in feel from the subtle and elegant grace evinced in a couple of the female dances, to the fiery and martial defiance  manifest in one of the male dances.  Though the music for these numbers was pre-recorded, the dancing—whether elegant or martial—was definitely in-the-moment, conveying the wonderful spontaneity and verve of Polynesian culture.  To illuminate the context for that culture, club advisor Toanui Tawa (a professor of English at SUU and himself a Maori native of New Zealand) spoke in a voice-over for the first dance of the heritage of tales and myths that enlarge the Polynesian outlook on the world.
            Polynesia remained the focus for the evening’s spectacular next sea-themed number: Polynesian Rhapsody, a powerful new commissioned piece by SUU graduate Jacob Lee, heard in a world premiere on this magical musical tour of the oceans. Fusing new instrumental music with traditional Maori song, this marvelous composition developed a stirring interplay between the orchestra and the voices of the Orchestra of Southern Utah Chorale, giving listeners at one moment the deep brooding and tense ferment of dark-toned instrumental music, and in the next moment an outpouring of overwhelming vocal pathos, a pathos voiced in the original Maori words.  Chorale director Jackie Riddle-Jackson deserves especially high praise for so successfully preparing her English-speaking singers to perform this challenging number with a force and power that would impress even native speakers of Maori.
            After intermission, the HMS OSU sailed for Arabian waters, there to feel the exotic winds wafting from the realm of an Arab king so enraged by his first wife’s infidelity that he executes each of his subsequent wives after a single bridal night—that is, until a brave and resourceful young woman allays this monarch’s murderous impulses with nightly tales suspended at such key moments of suspense that the king repeatedly spares her life to hear the narrative continued the next night.  Named for the courageous storyteller of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade transports listeners to this sphere of riveting tales, beginning with 548th tale, focused—quite appropriately for this concert—on The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship.
            Just like the tales that inspire them, the four movements of Rimsky-Korsakov’s masterpiece make imaginatively real for the listeners not only the brutally domineering king and his gentle but ingenious story-telling wife but also the dizzying variety of fantastic creatures that populate these tales—creatures that include rocs, jinns, ghouls, mermaids, and witches. Rimsky-Korsakov himself saw in his composition a “kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images and designs of Oriental character.”  But the instrumental talents of the OSU musicians proved equal to the daunting task of depicting these human and mythic characters, moving seamless from passages luminous with empyreal exaltation to passages bristling with dire threats.
            The entire orchestra deserves high plaudits for interpretive versatility in mastering this number, as does Maestro Sun for preparing the orchestra to modulate its rendition of this kaleidoscopic piece.  But special credit for the success of this number must go to the soloists, above all the featured soloist: violinist Katherine Lee Maxwell.  Whether rendering measures radiant, celestial, and delicate or passages muscular and sinuous, Maxwell captured with rare musicianship the spirit of the title character, Scheherezade.  But her brilliant performance was well complemented by secondary solos that gave fuller narrative texture to Rimsky-Korsakov’s work.  Thus while Lee made her violin speak for the female protagonist, Pete Atkins made his French horn rumble with the stern tones of her husband, the King. 
Assigning identities to the other secondary soloists proves a bit more difficult.  But the plaintive tenderness of Feng Sheng’s cello evoked thoughts of the innocent young women who had already perished by the king’s cruel orders. With her secondary solo of supple euphony, flutist Ariel Rhoades summoned images of some beneficent jinn, and with the mellifluous fluidity of the song she drew from her clarinet in her secondary solo, April Richardson brought to mind a mermaid.  Woven together, the outstanding solos and the strong performance of the orchestra animated Rimsky-Korsakov with all of the vitality of the original tales.   
By the time the good ship HMS OSU finally pulled into dock, its delighted passengers knew theirs had truly been a truly wonderful musical sea voyage.  The sponsors—especially the chief sponsor, the George S. and Dolores DorĂ© Foundation--deserve warm thanks for underwriting this unforgettable voyage. So do all of the performers, both the regular members of the Orchestra of Southern Utah and its affiliated Chorale, and the guest performers (Katherine Lee Maxwell and SUU’s Polynesian Club). 

And let music lovers in Cedar City not forget how fortunate they are that OSU repeatedly brings to this city world premieres of superb orchestral music (just last year, readers delighted in the world premiere of Lee’s Casey Jones Overture).  In many cities much larger than Cedar City, municipal orchestras never give their listeners the thrill of a world premiere. Xun Sun and OSU’s executive board deserve kudos again and again for their truly exceptional commitment to bringing new music to the Heritage Center. So long as that commitment persists, voyage after voyage on the HMS OSU will discover to view undreamed of new horizons!  

Friday, February 19, 2016

"Terrifically fun day" Thanks to all involved.

Over 2000 participated in the OSU Aloha Jubilee and STEAM Festival from Feb. 11 to 13.  Thanks to all of the presenters, sponsors, and organizers for making this adventure in music, science, and art possible.  Composers seminar at SUU, two concerts on Friday for 5th and 6th grade students, Orchestra of Southern Utah concert on Sat. with SUU Polynesian Dancers, STEAM activities. Families contributed 350 pounds of food for Care and Share on Saturday afternoon.
(Photos courtesy of Pam Gilbert, Des Penny, and OSU musicians)

Dr. Keith Bradshaw with the composers from the American/Asian New Music Project:Conrad Winslow, Garth Neustadter, Chad Cannon, and Sun-Young Park. More info:

OSU Manager with her children at the STEAM Festival.

Building structures to withstand earthquakes.

Friday concert

Orchestra of Southern Utah Musicans with composers and musicians from the Asia/America New Music Institute.
Concert violinist Ga Hyun Cho as soloist with OSU musicians and musicans from Asia/American New Music Institute.

Elmers glue, drops of food color, and toothpick art with SUU Wise Club.

Leopard gecko was a huge hit with the SUU Animal Ambassadors collection
Melissa Leavitt, OSU Education Director introducing guest musicians for Friday assembly concerts.

Ga Hyun Cho provided three master classes to help local violinists of all abilities improve their playing.