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Communique: "Land & Sea" Features Elgar, Mendelssohn, Copland | Conductor Steven Errante

Gina Gambony
WHQR Public Media
Steven Errante, Conductor of Wilmington Symphony Orchestra

The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra presents "Land & Sea," featuring works by Edward Elgar, Felix Mendelssohn, and Aaron Copland. Guest vocalist, Mezzo-Soprano Mary Gayle Greene, is said to have a voice like molten chocolate. 

The concert is Saturday, October 20 at 7:30 pm at the Wilson Center.

Listen to our conversation with WSO Conductor, Steven Errante, above. He talks about this concert and shares some tidbits about Symphony Pops in November. Find our extended conversation below.  

Gina: So nice to have you here today.

Steven:It's great to be here.

Gina: Well, first of all I want to say I'm so sorry that your first concert was canceled.

Steven:Well, it was sort of disruptive, but we actually have a rescheduled date for it. So I think things are looking up.

Gina: It's going to be this summer.

Steven:It's going to be in June. It's going to be opening night as our closing night.

Gina: Let's talk about the second concert, which is now the opening, "Land and Sea." In this concert you have a guest singer, Mary Gayle Greene.

Steven:Right. Well, when I was looking for ideas for concerts, a couple of things on my short list included the Elgar Sea pictures, which are settings of five poems and I've always wanted to program the Aaron Copeland Tender Land suite. So I noticed that sort of surf and turf relationship right there. So we decided to call the concert "Land and Sea" because of the interaction of the kind of water oriented music and then one that relates more to the land. And so the sea pictures by Elgar are written for low female voice and that's actually kind of a rare item. And so as I was looking for ideas, I ended up actually searching on the Internet and so I listened to a lot of different singers, youtube performances and that sort of thing. And I hit upon this person who is on the faculty up at Appalachian State and her name is Mary Gayle Greene. I've never met her. I've just heard her youtube. And so we're excited to have her come down because he has a beautiful voice.

Gina: Specifically her voice has been called Dark Mahogany, deep plush mezzo soprano sound. And also, I love this: "the voice of molten chocolate."

Steven:There you go. That's what we're hoping for.

Gina: Sounds yummy.

Steven:Yes. You know, when you go listen to something for soprano or tenor, you get thrilled and chilled by the high notes, the heroic notes, but in music for a low voice, it's those low notes that the composer makes use of it. So Elgar does just a wonderful job of occasionally having the voice go down into that deep chocolate range and he surrounds it by just the right instruments. And so anyway, it's beautiful in its own right.

Gina: Tell me about Tender Land.

Steven:When I was in high school I went to the national music camp at Interlochen Michigan for a eight week summer program and Aaron Copland was a guest conductor. And so for an entire week, every morning for two hours, I sat in the front row of the rehearsal place and just watched him conduct and listened to what he said. And one of the pieces of music he did was the Tender Land suite and he stood up on his--or actually, he sat on a stool and he was about 70 years old at that time. And so he was pretty much moving from the wrists out. I mean, that was, that he was just kind of moving his baton, but he was just trying to get these highschool musicians to play things. What he said was, "I want more character," and has that kind of Brooklyn accent and he was trying to get them to, instead of playing in a classical style, to make their violins sound like fiddles and be more uninhibited because the Tender Land suite is taken from an opera that has that very much kind of roots music sound to it.

Gina: As you're conducting, have you reflected back on watching him conduct it?

Steven:I think it's in the back of my mind. I mean, I don't conduct like Aaron Copland. I don't talk like Aaron Copland and, and this was 1970, so I don't remember every detail, but I do remember some of the things he tried to do and we also have his recordings of that music too, so we can kind of hear what he did. But for instance, in the party scene where it takes place in a barn, he gives the indication that's supposed to sound kind of rough and country style. So we're working toward that.

Gina: Is there any other music from this that you need to speak about?

Steven:We're opening the concert with Mendelssohn Fair Melusina overture, which is about a mermaid of mythology and it kind of relates to the sea part of our land and sea program. It begins with some kind of rippling sounds coming out of the orchestra and then it actually has two different moods going on. So it's a contrast between a little bit more stormy music and then more placid music. The Fair Melusina overture is not performed that often, but it's just one of those beauties, sort of hidden gems in Mendelssohn.

I can tell you a little bit more about the Melusina of mythology. There are all kinds of different versions of this story, but the main thread is that she is a freshwater based mermaid and one of the requirements as far as her suitors are that they can never observe her when she's in the bath, but if they look then they're sent packing. So that's the story of Melusina. And the other little bit of Trivia is supposedly she is the model for the Starbucks logo.

Gina: When you say that her suitors can't observe her "in the bath," do you mean like "in the bath" or do you mean like "in the water"?

Steven:In the bath.

Gina: So she takes baths.

Steven:Yes, she does.

Gina: Excellent.

Steven:Anyway, Mendelssohn claimed that there was absolutely nothing in his music that actually reflected that legend and that he just wrote it as a birthday present for his sister. So we're free to read into it, anything we'd like.

Gina: The Symphony Pops is on November 13th, so you have some interesting pieces of music going on there. And also you have Buster Keaton's “One Week” screening.

Steven:Right. Well, it coincides with the Cucalorus festival and so we actually, part of the Cucalorus festivals, so are doing music that relates to film scores. And last spring we did Julia Walker's "Dance of the Coin," which involved orchestra with essentially a silent film. And so we thought we'd take that one step further and doing an accompaniment that has been written and especially for Buster Keaton's one week. So there'll be a screen come down and the orchestra is going to have to try to sync with the action on the screen. So this is kind of a new experience for me too. So we'll see how that goes.

Gina: And the music you'll be playing--Andrew East Simpson composed the music for that short silent film?

Steven:Yes, there are actually, with most silent films, there are a number of different scores that go with them. I mean, Charlie Chaplin supposedly wrote his own, but this is a contemporary score.

Gina: That's what I wanted to ask, is this Andrew East Simpson guy a living composer?

Steven:Right. Andrew Simpson is a contemporary composer and he's written music for various silent films

Gina: That must be kind of fun though.

Steven:Oh, it is. And it's really a funny film too. So we're looking forward to kind of enhancing it with what happens in the orchestra.

Gina: Will you be using any sound effects, things that you wouldn't normally use?

Steven:Well the orchestra has some sort of comic effects that go on with some of the hits, you know, in the film and it comes with a click track. So I'll have headphones on and I'll be following to stay synced with the movie.

Gina: Yeah, that's going to be fun. And then you have Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur, Dr. Zhivago, The Pink Panther, The Way We Were, Batman, Dances with Wolves, right?

Steven:Well, we're doing one piece that's called The Big Movie Suite, which has a lot of those movies that you mentioned and very, very famous scenes from movies. We'll be doing some maybe lesser known ones. We're doing the transformation scene from Beauty and the Beast, from the end of Beauty and the Beast. And we also have a special guest MC for the concert.

Gina: David Hyde Pierce.

Steven:David Hyde Pierce.

Gina: And for anyone who doesn't know who that guy is, he's from Frasier.

Steven:Right. He Played Niles Crane on the Fraser Television and he was also one of the stars in Spamalot and most recently he was on Broadway with Bette Midler in Hello Dolly. So we're really lucky to have him come down and just lend his talent and his sense of humor to the concert.