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 performed "Scheherazade," the third concert in its 30th season, to a sold-out crowd Monday night at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island.
The concert's them was based on "Arabian Nights," which tells of the fantastic stories told to a sultan by his new bride for 1,1001 nights.
Dmitri Shostakovich's "Festive Overture" was described in the program notes as a "brilliant, effervescent work, with its vivacious energy spilling over like uncorked champagne." The symphony's performance exceeded my expectations right from the beginning.
Pianist Ran Dank returned to Hilton Head, giving a flawless performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff's well-known "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." He admitted experiencing trouble, fighting with the action of the piano in certain octaves. If this was the case, he disguised it totally (and this would not be an easy thing to mask). Perhaps the only thing missing from this performance was an occasional wink to the audience letting us know he had it totally under control.
He returned to the stage to perform Frederic Chopin's "Prelude in A Minor" -- not scheduled but offered as a prelude to a performance of Chopin's works to be given the following night. This musician can look forward to a bright future, and I was glad that Hilton Head was afforded this opportunity to hear him so early on in his career.
After a welcomed intermission, we were treated to Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov's symphonic suite, "Scheherazade," a musically heavy work that is light to the ears. Again, the program notes described this music as being "colorful and pictorial ... but not programmatic." Without reiterating the detailed but necessary program notes, what made this work so "colorful and pictorial" was the great use of so many instrumentalists in the orchestra itself. Each and every soloist played beautifully.
What got my attention was how John Morris Russell, the conductor, expressed to the minutest detail what he wanted to hear from each musician. For example, when the harp had arpeggios, the conductor meticulously expressed each one differently, and the harpist played them exactly as requested. At other times, the conductor -- by his actions -- requested that the strings reduce the sound to an extent where it almost created an illusion of the orchestra leaving the stage. In addition, I noticed at times the conductor made sweeping gestures, not in predictable patterns of three or four.
Every once in a while we get to be a part of an experience that leaves us knowing our lives have been enriched. Certainly, this concert could be counted among them.
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.