Editor's Note: Steven Branyon, a longtime musician in the Lowcountry, provided this review at the request of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.
On Valentine's Eve, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra treated its audience to a program titled "Classics," with Daniel Meyer, guest conductor and conductor of the Asheville Symphony in North Carolina. The program began with "Lyric for Strings," by George Walker, an African-American music professor at Rutgers University. This lament was a tribute to his late grandmother, for whom he must have cared deeply. It was a beautiful and moving work with many lovely transitions ending with a resultant of a fifth in the low strings on the last chord, a device used by organists to achieve the effect of a lower sonority. This work was received so enthusiastically that it was repeated before the last half of the program.
Haydn's "Cello Concerto in C" featured guest artist Narek Hakhnazaryan, gold medal winner at the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, performing on a 1698 Tecchler cello, on loan from Valentine Saarmaa, granddaughter of the late performer Jacques Francois. This was an exciting work performed by the guest artist mostly with his eyes closed, from memory, as his nimble fingers effortlessly glided across the bridge of this lovely instrument transforming rather technical passages into beautiful music. This work contained themes that were mostly switched between the soloist and the first violin section and it was only when these switches occurred that the soloist would make eye contact with the section. This eye contact was not out of necessity but just as assuring confirmation.
When there were quiet passages required in the second movement, they were executed in perfect balance between the orchestra and soloists. The last movement began with racing in the first violin section, yet they stayed together with precision. I noticed that the cellist breathed deeply before entering during this movement, something I wished more instrumentalists would do instead of leaving it only to singers. The cello has never been an instrument of preference for me personally, but when I hear playing such as this, I find myself truly drawn to the instrument. The enthusiasm of the audience insured an encore by Hakhnazaryan, "Bach's Sarabande in C."
During the Haydn, the lower strings were relegated to keeping the rhythm all the way through, and they seemed happy to do so, but in Beethoven's "Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36," there was a definite contrast to the Haydn because the lower strings had more melodic content. In fact, all sections got a little bigger piece of the cake, taking turns with the dramatic lines, and the symphony ended with exciting drive.
Indeed this was an exciting concert, and Meyer was more than capable of pulling it off. In fact, during most of the concert I did not find myself worrying about his role as conductor, because my attention was on the orchestra and the guest artist, where it really should be when all is going well.
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.