Audience Gifted by Guest Maestro and Wiley’s Piano Playing

The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Janna Hymes, gave a concert of Classical and Romantic works on Saturday night in the Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center before an audience of about 675. This allowed regular conductor David Stewart Wiley to appear as a soloist in two works for piano and orchestra.

At the beginning of the program, Maestra Hymes, who is the regular conductor of the Williamsburg Symphony, came on stage and introduced herself with an ingratiating and informative speech. She expressed her great admiration for the musicians of the Roanoke Symphony and explained how the first piece, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, was written because of the composer’s love for his wife Cosima.

Hymes promised that the orchestra would play their hearts out, and indeed they did. Maestra Hymes has a relaxed, fluid, clear but very expressive conducting style. She elicited a warm, blended sound from the ensemble and paced the passionate climaxes in the Wagner work extremely well. The winds and brass were especially fine in executing their difficult parts.

Overall, the performance was beautifully shaped. Maestro Wiley then started his set with the famous slow movement from Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467. Wiley exhibited an exquisite tone on the piano, especially in his control of the soft dynamics. He added extra ornamentation and decoration of the melodic lines suitable to the style and seemed to be in total synchronization, both musically and temperamentally with his orchestra.

Haydn’s three-movement Divertimento in C, also for keyboard and small orchestra, is a light and entertaining piece with brilliant finger work for the soloist in the first and third movements. Wiley started with a clear and articulate technique appropriate to a piece from the 1760s, but when he reached the cadenza at the end of the first movement, he improvised in a style more reminiscent of Grieg or Tchaikovsky.

The last movement showed off Wiley’s fleet fingers and throughout the entire work he showed complete involvement and delight in bringing this slim work to life. As an encore, Wiley accompanied concertmaster Akemi Takayama in a waltz he had composed as a present to his daughter Mara Louise. Here Takayama applied her sweet tone with lyric grace, technical finesse, and total commitment, smiling her way through the performance.

Wiley’s piece is tuneful and quite charming. After intermission, Hymes conducted the entire string section of the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s popular Serenade for Strings. Once again she led with a flexible but authoritative control, and brought out the expressive highlights of all four movements, especially in the elegiac Larghetto. In most places, the strings played with remarkable sense of ensemble.

The final movement moved with dazzling swiftness and pulsated with Russian energy, so that the ending was quite exhilarating. As a result, the audience rose to its feet and was rewarded with an encore — the delightful “Pizzicato Polka” by Johann and Joseph Strauss, played with humor and lightness under Hymes’ expert direction.

Timothy Gaylard is Professor of Music at Washington and Lee University.