MasterWorks I: A Scottish Fantasy

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Callum’s review of the Canton Symphony’s 2013-14 season opener:

This Canton Symphony season is going to be awesome, and I can’t wait for all of it. There are so many things I’m excited for, I can’t talk about all of them. But some of the main ones are PROJECT Trio, Grieg’s piano concerto, André Watts, Béla Fleck, and Holst’s Planets. The concert after this one is PROJECT Trio, which includes a flutist, a cellist, and a bassist. They are playing at the Palace Theatre with the orchestra. I can’t wait until that concert. It’s going to be awesome, especially the flutist, who is my favorite member of the three, because he beat-boxes while he plays the flute. Beat-boxing is when someone makes sounds like percussion using their mouth. My favorite video by the flutist is of him playing the Super Mario Bros. theme song, and you can click here to watch it. He became really popular because of his appearance on one of my sister’s favorite TV shows called “iCarly.” He has millions of YouTube views. I also can’t wait for Béla Fleck to come play with the orchestra. He is so talented. I’m also really looking forward to seeing André Watts play with the orchestra again. As I’ve said before, he is such an amazing pianist, and speaking of piano, on another concert, a different pianist is going to play Grieg’s piano concerto, which was played at the first Canton Symphony concert that I ever went to. So I’m really looking forward to that.

But now I want to tell you about this concert. I couldn’t wait to see it.  It was called “Scottish Fantasy” after the second piece on the program. But first, we went to the first rehearsal of the season, which was really awesome, too. The orchestra sounded good as soon as they started, but then, the further they got into rehearsal, the better they sounded. As I’ve said before, it’s amazing how Mr. Zimmermann whips them into shape. At first, they played through the whole symphony (Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony), without stopping at all. They didn’t even stop for a little bit between movements. After they were done playing through the whole piece, Mr. Zimmermann started at the end of the symphony and started rehearsing backwards, to work on the ending and make sure it’s perfect first. This was the first time the new concertmaster had ever played with the Canton Symphony. Her name is Justine Lamb-Budge. I bet she’s really excited for the season, just like I am.

I thought it was cool that the concert was all Scottish music since my name is Scottish, and I have some Scottish ancestors on my mom’s side of the family. Her maiden name is Edmisten, which came from Edmund’s Tun (which means Edmund’s town), where her ancestors lived in Midlothian outside of Edinburgh. They left Scotland for Northern Ireland sometime in the 17th century, and then came to America about 1740 and settled in North Carolina, which is one of my favorite places to be. My mom has a master’s degree in medieval history, and she named me after a sixth-century Irish saint who founded a monastery on Iona, and island in Scotland.

The first piece they played on this concert was composed by Eric Benjamin, who used to conduct the Canton Youth Symphony. It’s not a new piece, he wrote it a while back. I loved it. Mr. Benjamin loves the bagpipes, so he uses them in his piece, which sounded awesome.  In the program notes, he says “Space – distance – adds a mysterious and powerful effect to the sound of the pipes. I know some will joke that the farther away they are, the better the pipes sound. I do not laugh at such jokes, for I love the sound.” Having actual bagpipes playing with the orchestra made this piece really interesting. I love the sound of bagpipes, just like Mr. Benjamin does. At the concert, the bagpipes started behind the audience, down the steps in front of the doors to the concert hall, so you couldn’t see them. But then they came down the aisle to the front of the stage to play. Two drums were with them, so that was really cool. At first, just the pipes played a melody for a while, then the orchestra started to play a little bit, along with the bagpipes, and then the orchestra took the theme over completely, giving the bagpipes time to walk down to the front of the hall. After a while, the pipes, orchestra and the two drums all played together, and I thought it sounded absolutely great.

The next piece was the “Scottish Fantasy” by Max Bruch. The full title of the piece is “Fantasy for Violin with Orchestra and Harp making free use of Scottish Folk Melodies.” I thought that was funny that Bruch gave it such a long name, and it makes sense that everybody just calls it the “Scottish Fantasy” instead of the full title. William Preucil, the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, was the soloist for this piece. I remember seeing the Cleveland Orchestra play a lot, because my dad worked at Severance Hall when I was really little and I remember going there a lot. His office was right beside the organ, and one time the women’s choir was rehearsing “Neptune the Mystic” from Holst’s Planets behind the organ, so we could really hear it. In Holst’s Planets, I think Neptune the Mystic is scary music, and would sound great for Harry Potter. I think John Williams was inspired by Holst’s Planets, especially for his Harry Potter music. I can’t wait until the Canton Symphony plays it later this season.

But back to Bruch. This piece is so beautiful. In the concert, seeing William Preucil play was awesome. He was amazing. There was one part that had lots of variations on a theme. A lot of it is very peaceful and pretty, too. I thought it was funny that sometimes Mr. Preucil was kind of stomping his feet while he was playing, probably because he was so into the music that nothing else mattered. One part of the piece was like a conversation, or more of a competition, between the soloist and the orchestra. The whole string section would play a short melody, and then they would stop playing while Mr. Preucil played the same short melody in return. Mr. Preucil would also, a lot of the time, play two different notes at the same time. He is an incredible violinist, and the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Then after intermission, the orchestra played the next piece, which was Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, called “The Scottish”. Mendelssohn visited the ruins of Holyrood Chapel in Scotland, and the program notes say that was what inspired him to write the beginning of this piece. I pulled up a picture of Holyrood, and it was creepy and old. There was no roof and it was falling completely apart. The program notes also said Mendelssohn hated the bagpipes, so he doesn’t even hint at them in this piece. The piece is really exciting and intense in a lot of parts. The second movement sounds a bit more Scottish than the first. I love how this piece has a lot of beautiful countermelodies. There’s also a part in the first movement that sounds like huge ocean waves. It’s really cool. In the concert, the orchestra played so well, as always. I just loved it. I love the piece, but they played it so well – the performance was so amazing – that it made the piece even better. They did a phenomenal job, just great. You could see the joy on Mr. Zimmermann’s face, which shows his love for music, and it also shows how much he enjoys conducting such a great orchestra. Having the power to control an orchestra like that must be awesome. If you love music like he does, having a great, talented orchestra at the end of your baton is probably one of the greatest feelings you could have, so I could completely understand why he has an expression like that.  My dad pointed out how Mr. Zimmermann gets the orchestra to almost sing the music, not just play it. They don’t literally “sing” it, but they play it like they would sing it, which really makes it sound so beautiful. It was a great first concert of the season, and of course I can’t wait until the next one.

Note from Dad:
At this concert, Callum and I enjoyed meeting Mark Horning, a music and theater critic who sat in the row in front of us. Be sure to read his excellent review here. We look forward to seeing you at upcoming concerts, Mark (and thanks so much for the shout-out!)

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