Small orchestra, huge sound

April 08, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Usually when you're asked to sit up front, there's a feeling of dread because you've done something wrong.

West Virginia Symphony Orchestra Maestro Grant Cooper wants everyone at Wednesday's concert at The Apollo Civic Theatre to sit as close to the front as possible so they can be rewarded with the sound effects of composer Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons."

For its spring tour, the symphony has a baroque-sized orchestra with about 20 string performers rather than the normal 85-piece orchestra, Cooper said.


A loud sound can seem huge when played with fewer musicians than in a full-size orchestra, he said.

The orchestra's spring tour program, "Viva Vivaldi!" opens with the 7:30 p.m. concert in Martinsburg.

The concert begins with Vivaldi's Concerto alla Rustica. High school-age violinists Charles Morey and Elise Shen join the orchestra for Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor, and the first half of the concert ends with Concerto in D Minor.

"The Four Seasons" is performed after intermission.

The strings, along with featured violin soloist Rachel Barton Pine, will be telling the musical story of "The Four Seasons." Someone, probably either Pine or Cooper, will share the story, told through Italian sonnets accompanying the score, to the audience.

Telling the story will help people "enjoy and appreciate the incredible inventiveness of Vivaldi and what he's doing," Cooper said.

The piece has fantastic graphic detail of thunderstorms and dogs barking, Cooper said.

Cooper said Pine is the kind of special player who can bring out the vividness in Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons."

Cooper and Pine worked together a few years ago with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and she performed a baroque solo, they said.

"She approaches this music with such integrity and delicacy and a wonderful combination, too, of fire. That's exactly what I think baroque music requires," Cooper said.

Of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," Pine said she never gets bored of the great violin concertos.

"It never becomes stale. Every time I play it with a different group of musical colleagues, that collaboration yields new insights and nuances and continues to evolve," said Pine, 30, of Chicago.

Pine said she will be very interactive with the orchestra.

"There's a lot of conversation with the orchestra and violin. She's the deer and the orchestra is barking dogs, playing short notes, shooting at her," she said.

"She tries to escape, and they corner me again," she said.

It is baroque's operatic side that defines it, Cooper said.

The story of "The Four Seasons" comes from lines of poetry or sonnets in the score that describe what's going on, Cooper said.

Without the stage effects of today - the baroque period dates from 1600 to 1750 - composers had to find ways to create the sounds of the story with instruments, Cooper said.

"It's going to be amazing how many different sounds string instruments can make," Cooper said.

During the "Spring" concertos, a light bow is used to make a gentle sound like the shimmer of water.

In the second movement, a viola plays a single pitch over and over like a dog barking while the other musicians are still, he said.

For the buzzing sound mimicking a swarm of flies and wasps during "Summer," the bow is played close to the instrument's bridge, Cooper said.

"Autumn" tells the tale of harvest and celebration of Thanksgiving with people dancing and singing before the hunters go off on their chase, Cooper said.

Cooper describes "Winter" as the most fabulous and fantastic of "The Four Seasons."

"If it was a movie or something, this is when something would really happen," he said.

So sit up front.

"I hope that they will discover in baroque music a complete emotional and musical experience ... (To) discover it's very alive and visceral. It will reach out and grab you," Cooper said.

If you go ...

WHAT: West Virginia Symphony Orchestra's spring tour program, "Viva Vivaldi!" featuring Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" and violin soloist Rachel Barton Pine.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 13

WHERE: Apollo Civic Theatre, 128 E. Martin St., Martinsburg, W.Va.

COST: Ticket prices range from $10 to $65. Tickets of $50 or more include a post-concert reception with orchestra members in a private room at Red Wolf Grill with hors d'oeuvres and champagne.

DIRECTIONS: Take Interstate 81 south to Exit 13 (King Street) in West Virginia. Turn left on King Street and go about one mile to Queen Street. (Look for the public library on the right). Turn left onto Queen Street. Go two blocks to Martin Street and turn right. Go one block on Martin Street. The Apollo Civic Theatre is on the right side of the street. Approximate driving time is 25 minutes from Hagerstown.

CONTACT: For information, call 1-304-263-6766 or go to on the Web.

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