Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 25
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
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Westminster Community Orchestra Closes Season With Slice of Americana

Nancy Plum

Even though the school year at Westminster Choir College ended several weeks ago, performing arts on and off campus has continued full force after the student body has long gone. The Westminster Community Orchestra has been rehearsing right into the summer, presenting a refreshing “American Salute” Saturday night in Richardson Auditorium. Conductor Ruth Ochs and the ensemble performed four musical slices of Americana, joined in one number by the Westminster Conservatory Children’s Choir.

Few 20th century composers captured the American landscape more than Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, whose works opened and closed the orchestra’s program. Bernstein depicted the urban environment with his musical West Side Story, selections of which have been subsequently arranged by numerous people. The Westminster Community Orchestra chose Jack Mason’s medley of five or six selections from the musical for their concert opening.

The orchestra immediately began with a very full sound; one almost thought a staged musical was about to start. Dr. Ochs’ tempi were not overly fast, keeping the ensemble together in tuning, but losing a bit of the trademark Bernstein jazz bite. This piece was nicely orchestrated by Mr. Mason, with an occasional harp as a pleasant touch.

Aaron Copland’s Rodeo is a standard of musical Americana, and the four dance episodes presented by the orchestra showed off both good ensemble and solo playing. Dr. Ochs found effective dynamic contrasts between movements, especially between the “Saturday Night Waltz” and the closing “Hoe-Down.” Precise brass opened the “Buckaroo Holiday,” and instrumental solos by bassoonist Greg Resold and Sandra Moskovitz enlightened the piece.

In between these two towering American composers were two lesser-known works, one including chorus. David Brunner’s Earthsongs is a popular choral song cycle among children’s choirs, and served to further emphasize the “nature” theme of the concert. The combined choirs of the Westminster Cantus Choir and its subset Concino (part of the Westminster Conservatory Children’s Choir program), together with members of the Princeton Day School Middle School Choir, prepared by Yvonne McDonald and Patricia Thel, sang these pastorally orchestrated songs with clean diction and a good strong vocal tone. It was particularly nice to see a fair number of boys in the choral ensemble.

Composer Ferde Grofé came from the same musical vein as Copland, writing pieces reflecting American scenes. Grand Canyon Suite recaptures the composer’s own trip to the Grand Canyon, opening with a “Sunrise” and closing with a “Sunset” and “Cloudburst.” A nice pair of clarinets and horns opened the five movement work, aided by a solo piccolo played by Walter Iannacome and English horn played by Je Oh. The first movement “Sunrise” had a relaxed feel about it, and brightened as the music went along, leading to what must have been a blinding sun over the Canyon.

Throughout the work, solo instrumentalists provided effective lines, including bass clarinetist Karen Pitts and concert mistress Ileana Ciumac. The third movement was held together particularly well by the oboes, pizzicato strings, and percussion.

The underlying theme of this concert seemed to be nature (aided by a clever national parks quiz in the concert program). Hopefully, the refreshing music and reminder of parks helped get summer rolling for the audience.

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