Arts & Culture

A fine opener for symphony orchestra

Steven Branyon, a musician in the Lowcountry since 1990, provided this review at the request of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.

The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra began its 30th season of concerts this past Monday evening at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island.

There is usually an air of excitement and enthusiasm at the beginning of any musical season. Monday night was certainly no exception, as Hilton Head welcomed principal guest conductor John Morris Russell to the stage. From the first notes of the "Star Spangled Banner," it was obvious that a great night of music making was to come.

The program included Ludwig van Beethoven's "Egmont" overture, Jean Sibelius' "Violin Concerto in D Minor," and Antonin Dvorak's "Symphony No. 8 in G Major," all of which could be considered rather standard and well-known orchestral compositions. No risks were taken opening night with unknown, perhaps risky or otherwise venturesome works. This was OK with me because I was mostly interested in experiencing what the whole of the combined talents would achieve. The symphony did not disappoint.

Guest artist Bella Hristova delivered everything that was promised (through written reviews) in her performance of Sibelius' concerto. In any solo concerto, in addition to being a solo instrument, the performer's instrument is required to function alongside other instruments within the orchestra, to provide accompaniment. In this regard, there was no question with this performer knowing and exploiting the difference between these two functions.

When Hristova functioned as an orchestra member, her quieter passages were interpreted as fun interplay between herself and the orchestra. When she moved back into the role of soloist, she did so with a great conviction, yet with ease -- her real talent.

This part of the performance was conducted without the use of the baton. I was glad to see this departure from the norm, being that the hands are infinitely more capable of expression over a fixed and rigid object.

During Dvorak's symphony, I was aware that no matter what was called for in the music itself, it never seemed to be forced, it simply was allowed to happen, and this alone was refreshing.

I must congratulate the orchestra for its fine-tuning, especially in the string sections. There were moments of perfect unisons; I know that a perfect unison is one of the hardest goals to achieve in choral music so my presumption is that it is achieved with the same level of difficulty in orchestras. This improved tuning in the strings allowed for a unity throughout the whole of the orchestra. This sets apart a professional orchestra from a community orchestra.

If the orchestra holds this level of musicianship, Hilton Head may soon find its rightful place in the music world.

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.