Symphony celebrates community, diversity


By Thomas K. Wolber - Contributing columnist



On May 21, the Central Ohio Symphony closed its 2021-22 season with another phenomenal concert. On the program were four very different works, plus a surprise encore.

In a departure from the printed program, Peter Buyer’s epic “Ellis Island: The Dream of America” was first. Since its premiere 20 years ago, the attractive work has been performed nearly 250 times around the globe. Using spoken texts from the Ellis Island Oral History Project of the Ellis Island Foundation as well as contemporaneous photographic images, the composer produced a rich tapestry that reflects the American story. The music is sometimes eerie when the immigrants recall the European Holocaust or the horrific storms during their arduous voyages to America, but the optimistic “freedom” leitmotif, in a major key, always shines through as the refugees arrive in New York harbor and gaze at the Statue of Liberty for the first time. And the composer does not shy away from even using the popular big-band style when he describes Broadway. “Ellis Island” is an opulent work that brings together classical and popular music, the past and the present, immigrants and citizens. It is a perfect illustration of the nation’s motto, “E pluribus unum” (“Out of many, one”). America has always welcomed the stranger. Many did come to form a single, united nation. The work concludes with a reading of Emma Lazarus famous sonnet, “The New Colossus”: “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.”

During announcements, Executive Director Warren Hyer thanked the PNC Foundation for its financial support and the Arena Fair Theatre for its help with the selection of the seven actors. He also acknowledged the challenges such a large, cooperative endeavor involved. Despite concerted efforts, however, the technical issues with the microphones during the rehearsals could not be overcome during the performance. Many in the audience thoroughly enjoyed the very accessible music, but were disappointed that they could not hear the speakers clearly enough to follow their personal stories. (The voices are clearer in the video version. In addition, the complete script is accessible on the Symphony’s website under “Resources.”)

Brian Raphael Nabors’ “Iubilo” was next on the program. The joyful, boisterous work is fiendishly difficult as it involves complicated rhythms. The “Program Notes” for the concert (by Hillary Fowler) called it “a fanfare,” i.e., a brief tune played on brass instruments that serves as a ceremonial introduction. That is as good a description as any other. Another source speaks of the “cinematic” effect of the explosive piece. The young African-American composer, who was born in 1991 and not long ago received a Ph.D. in music from the University of Cincinnati, is so very much in demand these days that he is currently not taking on any new commissions. What “Iubilo” has in common with “Ellis Island” and the following works on the program is that it is intentionally “communal” in nature.

Next on the program was the “Trumpet Concerto” in E-flat major by Czech composer Jan/Johann Neruda (ca. 1708-1780). The classical work is for strings and harpsichord (Caroline Salido-Berta) only; all wind instruments vacated the stage during this 15-minute piece in three movements: Allegro, Largo, and Vivace. The trumpet soloist was Pacho Flores, a world-renowned musician of Venezuelan descent. The way this versatile grandmaster tootles his horn is out of this world. Not only is the sound he produces clear, pure, and bright, he also has healthy lungs since he can play tunes for prolonged periods of time. In addition, he is a wizard when it comes to rapid scales and trills. That was especially noticeable in “Concierto de otoño” (Autumn Concerto) by acclaimed Mexican composer Arturo Márquez (b. 1950), written for Flores. To this day, he is the only trumpeter in the world with the rights to perform the thrilling work. The lush showpiece has three movements: “Son de luz,” “Balada de floripondios,” and “Conga de flores.” The soloist used different trumpets for each movement to express the different colors, flavors, and timbres of the season. In “Sound of Light” he used a trumpet in C capable of producing high and bright notes. In the second, slow movement he used a flugelhorn that produced pensive and soulful tunes and a cornet in F trumpet. The third movement, a rousing conga at breakneck speed, required yet another trumpet in D. By the way, the instruments are especially manufactured for Flores by the Stomvi company, located in Spain.

Throughout the pieces he played, easy-going Flores displayed a laid-back style. On several occasions he light-heartedly joked with the conductor, Jaime Morales-Matos, a fellow Latin American. Music, to him, is not something to approach in awe, fear, and trepidation. It is, instead, a communal and celebratory affair meant to be enjoyed. The audience appreciated the humor and informality.

Jaime Morales-Matos and Pacho Flores surprised the audience with an encore not listed in the program: the jazzy “Chega de saudade” (“No More Blues” by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim (also known as “Tom” Jobim), in an arrangement for trumpet and trombone. While no one plays the trumpet like Pacho Flores, no one plays the trombone like Jaime Morales-Matos, Flores remarked. Both musicians have performed on their respective instruments around the world.

The enthusiastic audience gave the energetic conductor, the trumpet soloist, and the entire orchestra a richly deserved standing ovation. All had worked hard during rehearsals to achieve musical perfection. In case you missed the May 21 concert or wish to hear it again, it was recorded in its entirety by OWU’s videographer Elaine Chun and can be found on the website of the Symphony at www.centralohiosymphony.org.

The Central Ohio Symphony gratefully acknowledges the support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, the PNC Foundation, Delaware County, the City of Delaware, and Ohio Wesleyan University. Thanks are also due to the Symphony’s musicians and staff, subscribers, ticket purchasers, advertisers, donors, sponsors, trustees, and volunteers. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a community to support a symphony orchestra.

Make sure you don’t miss the annual July Fourth concert on Monday, July 4 (7:30 p.m.), on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. It is free and open to the public. While the program for the 2022-23 season, the Symphony’s 44th, is still being finalized, the dates have already been set. The season debut is Oct. 1, followed by a concert on Nov. 19 and the Holiday Concert on Dec. 11. During spring 2023, there will be concerts on March 5 and May 26. The season brochure will be mailed over the summer. For updates, visit www.centralohiosymphony.org.

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By Thomas K. Wolber

Contributing columnist

Local resident Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., taught foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University for over 30 years. He is now retired. Wolber has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is [email protected]

Local resident Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., taught foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University for over 30 years. He is now retired. Wolber has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is [email protected]