February 18, 2017 was looking to be just another rainy Saturday for most Nashvillians. However, the dreariness outside created just the right mood for the Nashville Concerto Orchestra’s warm and inviting winter concert. The orchestra is an extension of the non-profit organization “Mozart in Nashville,” and is comprised of Nashville musicians of all levels and professions. Its mission is to provide instrumentalists the opportunity to perform solo with an orchestra; this particular concert featured three soloists.
Charming and heartwarming are two words that truly embody the essence of the entire concert experience. In the beautifully spare sanctuary of the Trinity Presbyterian Church, families, friends, and strangers sat among the pews preparing to hear the orchestra. A friendly, casual vibe was established immediately, and chatter among audience members and musicians continued right up until 12:02 p.m. At this time, Roger Wiesmeyer, principal English horn of the Nashville Symphony and “Spark Plug/Co-Conspirator” (according to the program) of the Nashville Concerto Orchestra, took the stage to begin introductions.
After brief and engaging remarks, Wiesmeyer turned the microphone over to a woman who proceeded to touch upon what, for me, is the true purpose of music. As the mother of Zoe Marie of the Zoe Marie Brain Tumor Research Advised Fund, she expressed her appreciation for the orchestra and the gift that it provides to her and her husband. At the conclusion of her remarks, the concert began.
The first piece on the program was 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Grant Ferris, guitar, was awarded the opportunity to perform this work.
Concierto de Aranjuez consists of three movements, each distinctly different from the others. The first movement, which features a direct, punchy rhythm and softer melodic parts, put Ferris to the test in creating two very separate sounds, one right after the other. As a listener admittedly unfamiliar with the score, I desired more depth and range in his tone and mood of the two distinctive recurring passages.
Written for Rodrigo’s deceased daughter, the second movement is lengthy and full of passion and substance. It begins with repeated chords in the guitar, which Ferris executed with a gorgeous and luscious tone. The entrance of the English horn, played by Wiesmeyer, truly gave me goose bumps, as the sound grew and resonated off of the cinderblock walls. The French horn furthered this atmospheric sensation as it projected a gentile yet full tone that seemed to swell and fade in perfect time. This opening, in harmony with the faint patter of rain on the stained glass windows behind the performers, seemed to cast a spell on the audience; not a single listener was disengaged.
As the movement goes on, we leave this tranquil world and move towards unsettlement. Two cadenzas occur toward the end of the movement. The first incorporates painfully dissonant chords in the guitar that lead to an eerie feeling portrayed in the orchestra. The second builds in intensity, which Ferris accomplished magnificently with his use of rubato – giving and taking time where appropriate. This latter cadenza progresses into a triumphant and dramatic melody in the orchestra, a culmination of the anguish and grief that ultimately transforms into a sense of hope.
The third movement resembles a folk tune, demanding great facility in the guitarists’ left hand. There was a mild disconnect among the soloist, conductor, and orchestra – likely a consequence of the single rehearsal – but Ferris held his ground and received a standing ovation after a slightly anti-climactic series of runs at the conclusion of the movement.
The second and third movements of J.S. Bach’s famous Concerto in D minor for Two Violins followed, with Stefan Petrescu, a faculty member at the Tennessee State University, and Jocelyn Jones Sprouse, Director of Strings at the Linden Waldorf School, as the featured soloists. Sprouse began with a sweet, smooth tone that instantly drew the audience in. Petrescu’s entrance only added to this luxurious texture, complemented beautifully by the orchestra and the ever-present stability of the lower strings. There was immediate fire in the third movement that did not cease even for a second. The natural communication between the soloists made for not only a well-executed but also a visibly engaging performance. The soloists concluded the concert with exhilaration and delight. A resounding “Wow” was heard from a member of the audience as the violinists lifted their bows from the string.
With the remarks and the performances, The Nashville Concerto Orchestra displayed the aspects of classical music that are oftentimes lost: the authenticity, the pure and genuine joy it can generate. Orchestras such as theirs remind us classical music listeners that perfection need not be the ultimate goal; rather, the creation of meaningful music should be the priority.