Northern exposure

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Toledo Symphony brings Classical Thunder to Greenville

By Joe Aiello

Photo: The Toledo Symphony Orchestra and conductor Jeffrey Pollock will present their Classical Thunder program in Greenville on Saturday, April 27

On Saturday, April 27 at 8 p.m. in St. Clair Memorial Hall, 215 W. Fourth St. in Greenville, Resident Conductor Jeffrey Pollock and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra will present a program entitled Classical Thunder.

And, were she yet alive today, Greenville area and North Star, Ohio native Phoebe Ann Moses would have most certainly approved. After marrying at 16, Phoebe changed her name to Annie Oakley and eventually joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show where Chief Sitting Bull dubbed the diminutive trick-shot specialist “Little Sure Shot.” So, you see, she was attuned to the idea of the loud peal and clash of thunder, resembling as it often did the sound of gunfire.

While it may not be too difficult to get gunfire and cannon fire to resemble thunder, it is not nearly as easy to get music to do the same. There have been at least nine classical composers, however, who have done so – and to great effect. Jeffrey Pollock and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra – and especially the percussion section – will present 10 compositions guaranteed to rattle the rafters of St. Clair Memorial Hall.

Pollock is an international conductor known for the musicality of his performances, his innovative concert programming and his ability to make connections with audiences both in North America and in Europe. Pollock has worked with orchestras all across North America including the Houston, Nashville, Charlotte, Cleveland Chamber, Kitchener-Waterloo and Niagara Symphony orchestras. He has also given chamber orchestra performances with members of the Baltimore Symphony and the Tulsa Philharmonic.

On Saturday, April 27 the whole shooting match begins with Aram Khachaturian’s “Lezginka,” from his Gayane ballet. Based on, and derived from, Armenian folk music, this piece – which sounds like a 33 1/3 rpm record played back at 78 rpm – is guaranteed to get everyone’s juices flowing and toes tapping.

The Fourth Movement of Ludwig von Beethoven’s “Symphony Number Six” follows. Evoking an eerie resemblance to actual thunder, the tympanis (kettle drums) punctuate a constantly building theme reminiscent – at least to me – of a storm at sea.

“Infernal Dance,” “Berceuse” and the “Finale” of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird suite is next. It features a three-minute and 51-second finale that builds slowly and softly, reprises, gradually loudens, then quickly changes to a rapid, orchestrally richer climax with one sustained note played by the strings that lasts the final 25 seconds of the work and ends with a triumphant stinger.

Alexander Mosolov’s “The Iron Foundry” follows. It is ominous and ponderous, with the musical recreation of the sound of a drop forge hitting a bar of molten iron. In the mid-1980s, I produced and directed a videotape shot mainly in a massive iron foundry in Oxnard, Calif. When I hear this Mosolov work, I not only immediately think of the 25-ton drop forge in Oxnard, but I swear I can almost smell the ash.

The first half of the concert ends with the Fourth Movement of my personally favorite symphony, the “Symphony Number Five” by Dmitri Shostakovich. It features a rousing call-to-arms-type theme, bustling with activity and upwardly spiraling hope that rises higher and higher, finally becoming agonizingly hopeful.

Holy helicopters! Following intermission, the TSO will get things back on a fast track with Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” an opening guaranteed to lift you out of your seat. You might recall the theme was played on loudspeakers by Army attack helicopters portrayed in the film “Apocalypse Now” to frighten Vietnamese villagers and North Vietnamese and Vietcong soldiers while simultaneously announcing the onset of what the Air Cavalry called “Death from Above.”

Aram Khachaturian’s famous “Sabre Dance” (also from Gayane) follows, with its rapid call-and-response theme, offset by ballad-like music that is full of yearning and desire tinged with melancholy.

Reinhold Gliere’s “Russian Sailor’s Dance” plays exactly as you might expect. Its theme, with a throbbing reminiscent of Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” calls to mind a picture of sailors linked arm-in-arm and dancing to progressively quickening music as if – like the male dancers in the film “Fiddler on the Roof” – they all wore lit candles on their heads.

The next piece may make you want to set off a firecracker, as is usually done on the one day in the year it most played here in the U.S., the Fourth of July. It is the complete version of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” There are musical bombs and cannons, of course, but be sure to listen for the native folk songs representing various geographical sections of Mother Russia, which – by their inclusion – speak to the fact that Russia’s victory over Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Borodino that the work commemorates, along with the eventual expulsion of all French forces from Russia, was a truly national victory.

Johann Strauss II’s “Thunder and Lightning Polka,” a fitting, upbeat ending to an evening of musical Sturm und Drang concludes the concert and should have you dancing all the way home.

And wouldn’t Phoebe Ann Moses have been glad.

The Darke County Center for the Arts presents Resident Conductor Jeffrey Pollock and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra in a program entitled Classical Thunder on Saturday, April 27 at 8 p.m. in St. Clair Memorial Hall, 215 W. Fourth Street in Greenville, Ohio. Tickets are $30. For more information call 877.840.0457, or visit answers@ticketforce.com. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at JoeAiello@DaytonCityPaper.com

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A member of the Writers Guild of America, native Daytonian Joe Aiello is the author of numerous screenplays, non-fiction books, novels, TV sitcom pilots, news features, magazine articles, and documentaries. He fills his spare time coaching College, A, AA amateur and semi-pro baseball teams; answering trivia quizzes; and denigrating himself attempting to play golf. Reach Joe at JoeAiello@daytoncitypaper.com.

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