Steven Branyon, a longtime musician in the Lowcountry, provided this review at the request of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.
The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Teddy Abrams celebrated Dec. 5 with an array of seasonal music. The program started with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Dance of the Tumblers" from "The Snow Maiden."
Annie Bender, the young violinist and Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra Youth Concerto Competition winner, was featured in Wolfgang Mozart's "Concerto No. 5 in A major." What was so remarkable was the level of musical maturity inherent in her interpretation of this work, which could easily be detected in the way this young artist approached ornamentation.
Most young players simply provide the necessary trills, mordents and the like at the required time, but don't think of them in the context of the passages in which they reside. In a slow movement, the trill must not be too fast. This kind of maturity is not usually realized in a student until they are well into graduate studies. Yet here is a teenager to whom this is second nature. Congratulations on her achievement, and thank you to the orchestra for allowing her to perform for us.
The program continued with Mozart's "Sleigh Ride, German Dance No. 3." This piece was a wonderful example of Mozart's sense of humor, using the sounds of the sleigh bells.
The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra Chorus joined in singing Felix Mendelssohn's "He, Watching Over Israel," from "Elijah." I have never heard this sung at such a brisk tempo, but it was a convincing performance with clear enunciation.
The chorus from George Handel's "Judas Maccabeus" did not fare as well. Even though I felt that both chorus and orchestra were well prepared individually, the total ensemble was not as cohesive. This could have been prevented had the orchestra employed the use of the pipe organ sounding behind the singers to provide unity throughout, instead of an electronic keyboard. This was followed by the well-known and well-loved "Hallelujah Chorus." I thought the orchestra was a little too loud for the balance of the chorus, but this was an energetic performance, nonetheless.
The concert continued with Georges Bizet's "Farandole" from "L'Arlesienne, Suite No. 2," associated with "March of the Kings", and selections from Peter Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." The conductor shared tidbits of information with the audience throughout the evening. In this case, he explained that Tchaikovsky's talent for composing short movements to accompany the ballet was his genius. Also, when I can hear people in the audience humming along with the familiar melodies, it is nothing less than reassuring.
This holiday evening ended with "Silent Night" as arranged by Concertmaster Terry Moore. I must say how pleased I was upon hearing this arrangement. The carol was in a simple ABA form, but what made this piece was the use of rich, warm harmonies throughout.
Steven Branyon is a native of York and a graduate of North Greenville University, Winthrop University and Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. He is organist/choirmaster at All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head.