Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra's Messiah Sing-along, 2003

      The surprise of the Virginia Beach Symphony's Messiah sing-a-long was who would be the soprano soloist. The announcement had already gone out with Rita Addico-Cohen listed when we she e-mailed us telling us that she had an important audition in NYC and had to cancel. Unfortunately Karen Scott's e-mail telling us that her daughter Ann Scott would be the soloist came too late to make the correction.

      We have heard Ann sing several times over the last few years and are always fascinated to hear how her voice has developed since the last hearing. As her sound matures her powers of expression and volume of sound grow, allowing her to do more and more demanding music with improving technique and beauty of tone.

      Clifford Wells was the tenor with a powerful voice and a sweet sound. Glenn Winters was our baritone with what one might characterize as a British sound. The quartet of singers was rounded-out by Kathleen Franz, alto. Handel's music was well-served by this team.

      This was the twenty-first year of a free Messiah sing-a-long, a gift to the community from the Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra, with David Kunkel as music director and conductor, and Mark Hudgins conducting the audience as chorus. Several of the players have been in the group all twenty-one years.


Symphonicity Exults in Duruflé Requiem
with Soloists Lisa Relaford Coston and Charles Stanton

Conductor David S. Kunkel shared with the audience some of his favorite music in a concert at Sandler Center on February 22, 2009. Symphonicity, the symphony orchestra of Virginia Beach, began with an introductory talk by Maestro Kunkel. Of the composer's first piece, Jaromir Weinberger (1896-1967) Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper, he said "Weinberger only wrote happy music." The opera was first performed in Prague in 1927 and is a setting of a Czech children's story. In 1939 Weinberger fled his native Czechoslovakia and settled in the United States. He died in St. Petersburg, Florida. In his busy piece we find the melody, rhythm and colors found in folk music. Polka sparkles and is followed by a joyful Fugue with a glorious "Amen" closing.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Symphonic Poem No. 11 Hunnenschlacht (Battle of the Huns) was inspired by a painting of in-air combat between ghosts of slain Huns, led by Attila and Christian armies, circa 451 A.D. This second, symphonic piece with its use of solo organ between orchestral passages is very dramatic. Its dark tonal colors, agitated strings and soft rolling drums create a ghost-like sound. The feeling of foreboding holds a suppressed rage until the battle breaks. The battle cry is announced by the horns and is taken up by the strings. Against the raucous battle music in the orchestra we hear the ancient plainchant melody Crux fidelis in the trombones to represent the Christians. The rival themes become wilder and wilder until the Christian theme wins out. The second half of the tone poem is mainly a meditation on the chorale in episodes by organ or lushly romantic strings in hymns and Amens where the organ predominates and has a brief solo last word. The orchestra played well in what this listener found to be a strange composition.

The Requiem, Op. 9 by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) took up the entire second half of the program. The symphony was joined by a 150 voice chorus. The Symphonicity Chorus, led by Chorus Master Deborah Carr, was joined by the Old Dominion University Concert Choir, directed by Dr. Nancy Klein. Chorus Manager William Hunter was part of the chorus when Maurice Duruflé came to Norfolk, Virginia in 1972 to lead a performance of his Requiem.

Maestro Kunkel gave us some background. In 1912 when Duruflé was ten years old he was taken to Rouén Cathedral where he was captivated by the vaults, statues and especially the music. The Requeim is his crowning achievement and uses the Gregorian chant he was so taken with as a child but now dressed in 20th century clothes. Jo Marie T. Larkin, who prepared the program booklet, has done a masterful job of describing the craftmanship that went into this beautiful music.

From the opening Introit the performance was outstanding. Quiet strings and male voices sing "Rest eternal, grant them Lord." Soon joined by the female voices, the vocal line lilts through mixed meters as the singers are accompanied by running 16th notes heard in the violas. The chant flows into the Kyrie with rich layers of one group of voices over another with a trumpet line making the flow seamless as it builds into a glorious climax, followed by a gentle slacking off. A quiet organ leads us into Domine Jesu Christe with the females singing. Drum strikes lead into an intense vocal sequence of great excitement. A dreamy organ interlude follows leading back to the original chant melody by the female voices. All of this prepares us for the melodious baritone of Charles Stanton in texts that ask that souls of the departed pass into a new life.

Quietly, wave upon wave of organ and voice builds in intensity as the Sanctus unfolds. The beautiful consoling voice of mezzo-soprano Lisa Relaford Coston accompanied by cello weaves a magical Pie Jesu, pleading for everlasting rest. In the Agnus Dei the enfolding mood continues as the women repeat the message of eternal rest. A disharmony develops within their vocal lines, only to resolve. The male voices offer the same message.

Lux eterna, eternal rest bathed in light, is for women's chorus. A repeat of the text with cello and bass instruments and with men joining is a layer of richness added to the sound. The men are centered in the choir and lead us into an intensity of all forces joined which sets the stage for Libera me with two solo passages by Mr. Stanton, pleading for deliverance. Then all settles back into the soothing fabric of the piece. In In paradisum an ethereal suspension of time is created in the opening harp and celeste blending. The sopranos move through spirited, slightly dissonant chords accompanied by strings and bring us to a new intensity, an excitement of all voices. They begin again, once more seeking acceptance into the holy city of Jerusalem. The end is quiet. The audience's response was subdued. Perhaps it was awe at the exquisitely constructed music and the equally exquisite performance.

To have everyone leave the concert with a happy feeling, the orchestra and chorus had prepared the closing section from Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah. It worked.


Tanya Anisimova, Composer and Cellist with Symphonicity

Symphonicity, the symphony orchestra of Virginia Beach, presented a program "Premiere and a Mystery" on November 28 at Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. The program showcased the talented Tanya Anisimova playing cello in Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch (1838 - 1920) followed by her composition "The Seasons" - a Cello Concerto. Symphonicity Music Director David Kunkel conducted, opening the concert with a mystery overture. The music began quietly, featuring strings. It was it was a good five minutes into the piece when the dominant melody appeared in the woodwinds. When the trumpets rode in with a great fanfare the mystery was solved - Rossini's William Tell Overture. Played with verve by Symphonicity, this four movement overture from his opera Guillaume Tell is always a crowd pleaser.

In a long, loose fitting gown, the beautiful Ms. Anisimova with her gleaming cello and backed by orchestra offered us a lilting, majestic performance of Kol Nidrei, adagio on Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 47 (Berlin, 1881). First written down in the 8th century, this Hebrew folk tune is used in the opening prayer of the Jewish services on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). In this setting by a Protestant the cantor's role is given to a cello. "The middle section glistens - ethereal sounds of harp over which the cello sings a new theme only to return to the quiet intensity of the opening melody."

The first two movements of Tanya Anisimova The Seasons for Cello and Orchestra are played without pause. Conceived in 2006 and written 2007-2009, it is a musical meditation on the "transcendent nature of life" according to the composer. The first movement, Winter - A Soul's Birth - is "an invitation of the soul into the world." From the first notes of the harpsichord the listener is plunged into a world of melancholy. The strings do play some brief, Romantic passages but the sorrow in the solo cello played by the composer is unrelenting and dissonant. The cello solo that follows is filled with pathos, even to the point of despair. The orchestra's attempt at exuberance is stifled. Instead the coloristic percussion punctuates the somber cello line.

In Spring - Youth the harpsichord gives way to sweet harp sounds that enfold the cello, but only briefly. The composer's notes: "The soul is enjoying its youthful body as well as experiencing some frustration of adolescence." The rhythms are medieval in feeling with scattered horn announcements. The harp creates a diffuse halo of sound and the trumpet fanfare has a dissonant edge. The orchestra strives for a fanfare but fails again and again as if it were stuck in neutral.

In Summer - A Tango of Life the rhythm is a steady march. The orchestra breaks into a jazzy dance - a tango. Cello and bass pizzicatos support the solo cello's descending main theme. The lovely qualities never overcome the exhausting edge of the marching rhythms.

The last movement, Autumn - Awakening, examines the question of spiritual awakening as necessary to avoid our weeping in the face of death. The coda uses kettle drums with the orchestra to create the intensity of the climax - orchestral colors that draw on Shostakovich film scores. The mood is tentative and unsettling, as if waiting for the end. The marching theme returns, lively and strong at first and gradually narrows down to a whisper of sound as if the departing spirit has marched off into eternity and, in the composer's belief, only to reappear in the next round of painful rebirth. The cello performance by the composer can be viewed as definitive. The orchestra, which honored the composer's changes in the score throughout the rehearsals, is praiseworthy, if not totally polished.

This sprawling composition with some interesting use of percussion to enhance solo cello and orchestral soundscape was an entertaining journey but left no lasting impression on me. The program notes by the composer promote a belief system that includes reincarnation, but the music itself does not celebrate the joy in living. Without this joy why would anyone want to come back? Music that survives does so because it continues to inspire listeners. Only time will tell if the piece has a future.

After intermission Symphonicity played Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor.


Soprano Kimberly Markham Shines in Symphonicity Pops Concert

What's new with Symphonicity? A free pops concert added at the end of their usual classical series. It is official, next season's subscribers will be offered a fifth concert, free. Musical Director and Conductor David Kunkel announced that there will be no increase in subscription cost but there will be an extra pops concert to cap the season.

The program Glitter and Be-Jeweled at the Sandler Center in Virginia Beach on April 5 featured the beautiful singing actress Kimberly Markham in arias by Handel: Faghe perle from Agrippina; Gounod: Jewel Song from Faust. With a makeup table and chair she created a vignette of an enticing woman, her natural beauty enhanced by jewelry. From Bernstein Candide she plucked the modern coloratura masterpiece Glitter and Be Gay and gave a smashing performance. Each time she came on stage she was wearing a different, always elegant gown. Eight selections were listed on the program but the list ended with "And a few surprises." In a red, floor length gown with microphone in hand Ms.Markham sang a knowing Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, always an antidote to market downturns. Marilyn Monroe would have felt honored by this classic performance.

With a few string players there was a look back at the bygone era of Ladies Musical Afternoons with a recital of an innocent young woman who admits to being a good girl, not even knowing how to kiss. But being honest she admits that her life is not much fun. The song was!

Between vocal selections we were treated to Lehar Gold and Silver Waltz, Offenbach La Vie Parisienne, Auber Crown Diamonds Overture and Lane/Bennett Finian's Rainbow Selections (Old Devil Moon among them). Speaking of Bennett, that is Robert Russell Bennett, born in Kansas City in 1894. Composer and conductor, he orchestrated some 300 Broadway musicals, for everyone from Cole Porter to Richard Rodgers. Later the orchestra played Tribute to Charles Strouse. Strouse (b.1928) wrote Bye, Bye Birdie, Golden Boy, Annie and other musicals dealing with contemporary American society.

This high energy, engaging concert closed with an encore by Ms. Markham with the full orchestra in The Mom Song (words by Anita Renfroe) describing the perils of being a modern mother set to the "Lone Ranger" theme from Rossini's William Tell Overture.

A fund-raising raffle for the painting donated by Alexander Anufriev, husband of cellist and composer Tanya Anisimova was held. Awards for outstanding instrumentalist from local high schools were given out by Maestro Kunkel and a drawing for a jewel given by Baker's Jewelry was held. The orchestra was in fine form. All together, a glittering afternoon to wrap a fine Symphonicity season.

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