Monday, May 15, 2000

Symphony rolls with rock stars' works

By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Saturday night's Northern Kentucky Symphony concert marked the end of their 1999-2000 season in Greaves Concert Hall at Northern Kentucky University.

        The concert was aptly called “Roll Over Beethoven” because the repertoire included classical works by popular musicians including Frank Zappa, Keith Emerson, Michael Daugherty and Paul McCartney.

        In true NKS fashion, director and conductor James R. Cassidy combined innovative pieces with passionate, heart-felt playing. The result: a laid back and captivated crowd that filled the auditorium.

        No one even seemed to mind the listener who provided a little auxiliary percussion of his own when he brought his ice-filled glass back from intermission.

        The first piece, Michael Daugherty's, “Dead Elvis,” calls for the bassoonist to dress like The King himself.

        Hilarious, yes. But Mr. Daugherty's composition moves way beyond sheer amusement. In his music, Mr. Daugherty pays homage to pop icons — from Jackie Onassis to superheros.

        The repetitive bassoon theme, played by Eric Stomberg, swelled over the chamber orchestra's part, colored with 50's rock and a little tango.

        NKS played the wind version Frank Zappa's “Dogbreath Variations”, a work based on the song “Dog Breath,” by Mr. Zappa and his band, Mothers of Invention.

        Mr. Zappa's golden sense of irony and sarcasm are readily apparent in a composition fit for a cheesy 70's action movie. Both the NKS wind and percussion sections were exceptional, and there were only a few intonation problems in the brass section.

        Mr. Cassidy told the audience that the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) had not been performed in North America since the artist debuted it in 1977.

        Piano soloist Terry LaBolt played the Gershwin-Stravinsky- Ravel-Brahms-Schoenberg-influenced concerto in unassuming, deep style.

        The second movement, pastoral because Mr. Emerson wrote it in his barn overlooking the English countryside, was played with much tenderness.

        The third movement was pulsating, angry and full of high energy, particularly in the violins.

        Mr. Cassidy told the audience Mr. Emerson wrote this piece after his barn burned down.

        Selections from Paul McCartney's Standing Stone, the pop legend's second attempt at an orchestral work, was the concert finale.

        Mr. McCartney, who doesn't read music, and, although the overall composition is technically simple (not to mention conservative), here the simplicity works.

        The orchestra's liberal use of dynamics gave enormous texture to the earthy, moody piece.

        The choir sings wordless passages until the last selection, when they sing a poem that includes a lyric, “Love is all that matters in the end,” surely reminiscent of a certain band out of Liverpool.


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