The Wichita Symphony turned in some of its finest playing of the season in Saturday night's concert in Century II. The orchestra was led by music director Andrew Sewell in an engaging and satisfying program of works by American composers.
The program began with Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," for brass and percussion. Copland had difficulty choosing a title for this work, but Saturday's performance illustrated why it works. The piece movingly depicts the expansiveness of America and the potential for greatness that each American possesses. The brass and percussion played with strength, beauty and clarity.
The Copland Fanfare was a wonderful prelude to Stella Sung's "Rockwell Reflections." An evocative musical narrative inspired by five paintings by Norman Rockwell, this beautiful soundscape was accompanied by projections on screens suspended above the orchestra.
Like a good film score, this piece readily conjures feelings and emotions in the listener with lush string sounds, soaring horns and an engaging variety of orchestral textures. The orchestra did the score great justice and the audience warmly received the performance. The fourth movement, Murder in Mississippi, was especially powerful; principal trumpet Donald Duncan is to be commended for the lyricism of his playing.
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Concluding this well-conceived program was Symphony No. 2 by Charles Ives. Greatly influenced by his musical father, Ives demonstrated a talent for music at an early age. By the time he completed his studies at Yale he was held in high regard as an organist. Not long after graduation, the enigmatic Ives chose to quit music as a profession and began working for an insurance firm.
Ives was successful in this field, allowing him to provide for his family and create the convention-defying pieces that sprang from his mind. Saturday marked the symphony's first performance of this piece, which was composed more than 100 years ago.
The orchestra performed the score ably. Tuning was occasionally suspect in the more challenging moments, and the interpretation seemed more safe than expressive, but the audience was graced with many compelling moments, most notably the solo oboe and cello passages.
Not wanting to send the audience out into the night with the ambiguity of the last chord of the rule-breaking Ives ringing in their ears, Sewell returned to the stage to lead the orchestra in John Phillip Sousa's "Washington Post March," the most quintessential of American music.