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OC Symphony - an American Landmark

Underscore from lone bassist

By Michael Buss, 2011-05-16
Wind bands are not everybody’s “cup of tea”. But growing up in England there is no avoiding the rich brassy sound of the old colliery bands, or the precise, exquisitely balanced music of military bands – like the Band of the Royal Marines. Whether on the march or entertaining the crowds in the park on a warm summer afternoon, bands are a British way of life.

And so to Servite School, regular pitch of the Orange County Symphony, and on May 15th, the two wind orchestras, youth and adult set out some of their extensive repertoire.

I came away thrilled, entranced by what I saw and heard. Here was symphonic excellence as good as any I have heard – and that includes the splendid Pacific Symphony, whose concerts I used to attend regularly a few years ago.

In the first part of the evening the Youth Wind Symphony took center stage under the safe and energetic baton of conductor and music director Anthony Parnther. When you pick up on his fun approach towards music you have little doubt the players must love him. For the most part these musicians were students at high school or college, immaculate in black and white dress. They started a little hesitantly into four Scottish numbers and gained in confidence as they went.

The Youth Orchestra takes the applause

Before long their playing was crisp, accurate and expressive. Conductor Anthony Parnther took time to introduce the graduating high school members of the orchestra. No fewer that four of them came from Loara High School. That school must have a good band program! And most of the students were planning to go on to major in music at college.

Think of it – here are students who keep up their grades, participate fully in school music programs AND take time to benefit from the free musical education they receive from the OC Symphony. This is a marvelous breeding ground for some of the best Orange County’s young musicians.

Even more important – the future of America’s rich musical culture rests with students like these.

Part two of the program brought the full adult wind symphony on stage. This is a fully professional orchestra comprising musicians who will play with many other bands and groups, and many local educators. They are stunning. Now director Parnther has changed from his casual black shirt and pants into white tie and tails. And he warns us up front that we are in for a wild ride.

No prizes here - but name that instrument!

Composer Ron Nelson’s Rocky Point Holiday takes the audience on the first ride. You imagine the Pacific coastline, musically wild, pitching and rolling between canyons, cliffs, beaches, landslides, forests and crashing waves. From there we moved to the more elegiac gentleness of Aaron Copland’s Down a Country Lane. Delicious familiarity washed over us as the band played Liberty Bell and America the Beautiful.

But perhaps the biggest delights were the two pieces by young composer Carter Pann, present in the audience for this performance. Mr. Pann seems not content with gentle, lyrical pieces from which the audience can get away home with a good tune to hum. His forté is to dazzle and bemuse you with musical renderings of mind blowing abstract themes. You could almost complain – there’s too many notes! His Slalom certainly fulfills the conductor’s prediction of a wild ride. But as if that were not enough, Carter Pann also got to hear a performance of his Concert Logic inspired by logic games from Ancient Egypt through to today’s Rubik’s cube. It is a piano concerto.

It took many emails before Parnther could even find anyone to play the piano part. It is so hard, so complex in its rhythms, and intense, frenetic outbursts of energy that most pianists refused to learn the piece.

An artist of great versatility and musical fervor

Then enter young Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, undaunted, with his mop of tousled hair and spectacles, reminding you instantly of a grown up Harry Potter, stepping forward to perform the magic.

The performance unfolded – the conductor no longer easily conducting some familiar piece but intent on every page, the orchestra counting the measures ready to enter at the precise moment. But who could ever know what that moment was? Yet somehow soloist, orchestra and conductor melded into a performance whole that simply left you breathless. And at the conclusion when Carter Pann came on stage to share the applause you knew, if you thought about it, that you had just witnessed sheer musical genius.

Another highlight was Michael Daugherty "Brooklyn Bridge for Clarinet and Symphonic Band" where the clarinet soloist was Adrienne Geffen. A more lyrical piece, the musical themes bounced back and forth from solist to orchestra. But visually we were transfixed by the young and talented Ms Geffen who commanded the space like a seasoned pro. What a treat!

And where was this brilliance on display? In Carnegie Hall, or the Walt Disney Concert Hall, or the even Segerstrom Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa Here? No, right here, in Anaheim, in a school hall. For twenty bucks.

Dear readers, in this OC Symphony we have a treasure on our doorstep. And I have only just begun to see what they can do. It’s a costly business to bring an orchestra to such a level of excellence, and by so doing, thrill audiences and perpetuate the finest of symphonic music. If you’ve never heard this orchestra before, consider finding a future performance and making it a priority. Please visit their website for details of further details – which we always feature in our Calendar section.

Congratulations OC Symphony.



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