Saturday, November 11, 2017

Symphonic Sorcery

By Bryce Christensen
“Music acts like a magic key,” remarked Maria von Trapp, “to which the most tightly closed heart opens.”   The magical heart-opening power of music manifested itself in marvelous ways at Cedar City’s Heritage Center the night of November 9th, as the Orchestra of Southern Utah (OSU) welcomed a large Chorale to perform a concert on the theme of “The Magic of Mozart.”  Recently named as the 2017 recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Public Service Award, OSU President articulated the theme of the evening in opening remarks in which he promised the exceptionally large audience a program alive with the “sorcery of sound,” albeit a sorcery wrought through the conductor’s baton rather than the wizard’s wand.

From the very first number, the audience indeed felt that beneficent sorcery.  With the inspiring passion that has characterized his directing style ever since his appointment as OSU’s Music Director and Conductor in 2003, Xun Sun opened the evening with Mozart’s “Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.”  A vibrant number that showcased the entire orchestra’s polished talents, this Mozart masterpiece shone with particular luster because of deft short solos by bassoonist Julie Kluber, clarinetist Sarah Solberg, oboist Patrice Ramsey, and flutist Ariel Rhodes.  Kluber’s mellow warmth perfectly complemented Solberg’s brighter and more incisive notes.  And the musical palette grew even more complete with the penetrating clarity flowing through Ramsey’s instrument and the silvery filigree provided by Rhodes. 

Much of the puckishly mischievous magic emanating from the evening’s second number—“Non so piu cosa son,” from Act 1 of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro—came through the impish but beguiling voice of mezzo soprano Lindsey Lopez.  Singing in the persona of a libidinous and irresponsible teenage boy,  Lopez perfectly conveyed the adolescent petulance of this naughty young rogue, her voice (and gestures) charming an audience amused by the peevish perplexity of a hormone-driven young male somehow surprised that his reckless behavior keeps landing him in trouble.

The magic of the evening’s third number—Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra in G Major­—modulated from that of comic playfulness to symphonic brilliance.  And though the orchestra proved itself more than equal to the challenge of conjuring magic through this masterful composition, the enchantress casting the truly irresistible spell was flute soloist Adrienne Tedjamulia Read.  Through her flawlessly executed trills and her sparkling rapid scales, the sound from her instrument so bewitched the audience that those listening gladly surrendered to its dazzling presence as its coruscating luminosity darted here and there like a fugitive sunbeam. 

After intermission, the orchestra welcomed to the stage an impressive composite Chorale of 180 voices, prepared for the evening by OSU Chorale Director Jackie Riddle-Jackson.  This wonderfully large ensemble of vocal talent brought together singers from Canyon View High School’s A Cappella Choir (directed by Alex Byers), Southern Utah University’s Opus Choir (directed by Krystal McCoy), In Jubilo Women’s Choir (directed by Jackie Riddle-Jackson), and the OSU Chorale.  As these talented voices joined with the OSU instrumentalists to perform Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, they delivered a work akin to magic in that it transcended rational understanding, surely a work exercising the heart-opening power van Trapp identifies as a magical attribute of music.  Still, the label magic­ does not truly apply to this Mozart meisterwerk, a composition too powerful, too profound, ultimately too sacred and holy to bear that label. 

Masterfully directing this soul-stirring number was guest conductor Dr. Ryan Murphy, associate director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a choir intimately familiar with sacred and holy music.  A commanding presence on the podium, Murphy wove choir and orchestra into a majestic musical tapestry, vocalists and instrumentalists in flawless harmony both in the intense passages conveying the fearful wrath of an offended God and the softer measures suggestive of the humble pleading of devout penitents.  Every voice, every instrumentalist deserves praise for this unforgettable musical outpouring. 

But five soloists truly shone on this night of exceptional music: In dark and taut solo measures, Michelle Lambert made her trombone a voice of haunting poignancy.  And what Lambert did with her artistically crafted brass tube, soloist Alex Byers did with his own powerful vocal cords, his deep-toned bass voice plumbing fathomless profundities.  Likewise moving was tenor Lawrence Johnson, his rich solos redolent with plangent pathos.  Listeners had further reasons to rejoice when the spotlight shifted to alto Taliah Byers, whose solos radiated the supernal hopes that sustain faith.  Completing the complement of outstanding vocal soloists, Terri Metcalf-Peterson transported listeners above the empyrean, into the realm of the angels, on her soaring soprano voice.

On a night dedicated to “The Magic of Mozart,” concert-goers relished astonishing musical magic—and more than magic.  In a concert that ranged from humorous light opera to somber religious devotion, OSU and the Chorale achieved excellence that would make a city of half a million swell with pride.  Residents of Cedar City can only marvel—and give thanks—for such incomprehensible musical wealth.  All of the musicians on the stage deserved the prolonged standing ovation the audience gave on this Thursday night.  Also meriting applause were the evening’s sponsors: In Jubilo and the George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Foundation.   These sponsors could not have given the community more if they had found a Philosopher’s Stone. 

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