Midcoast Symphony Orchestra
Orion Performing Arts Center, Topsham
Mar. 20, 2016
by Christopher Hyde
Finally, a real pops concert; popular favorites from the classics, rather than the usual uncomfortable combination of rock band and symphony, in which both sides lose.
It took the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, under guest conductor Eric Hewitt, to do it right, and judging by the capacity crowd Sunday at the Orion Performing Arts Center, the audience is there for it. There was not a parking place within a half mile of the hall.
The afternoon got off to a shaky start, with some sour notes in the andante opening of Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture, but by the time the Lone Ranger theme came along, the players had caught fire and never looked back. During the finale, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” they sounded like the Vienna Philharmonic, but with more brio.
The theme of the march, deliberately or not, gave the program continuity. The Napoleonic quick march (I forget the name of it), appeared in the Berlioz “March to the Scaffold” from his Symphonie Fantastique, as well as the “1812 Overture,” while more standard military versions were heard in the Radetsky March of Johann Strauss the Elder, and in Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette.” The latter included some fantastic work by the woodwinds.
The obligatory nod to movie music came in the form of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” and John Williams’ Overture to “The Cowboys.”
The more I hear the “1812,” (with or without cannons) the more I marvel at how good it is. It transcends the categories of occasional and commissioned work by light years, and is one of the most well composed of Tchaikovsy’s works as well as the most inspired.
Its use of anthems, hymns and folk music to characterize the French and Russian adversaries before Moscow is masterful and can be appreciated as well by a first-time listener as by the most experienced musical professional.
From the warm, intimate cello hymn at the beginning to the frantic pealing of the bells of Moscow in the wind-driven flames, the orchestra was superb. It well deserved a resounding ovation and conductor Hewitt his bouquet from two charming little flower girls.
Let’s do this again soon.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.