Roanoke Symphony Orchestra salutes Americana: The orchestra finished its Masterworks season with some New World greats.

The following appears in Tuesday, May 11, 2010 edition of  The Roanoke Times

By Seth Williamson

The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra held up a mirror to America on Monday night, and it was beautiful. From the gritty streets of New York City to lonely Western prairies to the small town we all wish we were from, it was there in the RSO’s final Masterworks concert of the season. Reviewers should be on guard when a program pushes all their personal buttons. So — full disclosure — I’ll say that almost everything Maestro David Stewart Wiley chose for this concert was a particular favorite of mine. Keep that in mind as you read this review. ¬†Nevertheless, it was great.

OK, so I’ve never been thrilled by Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.” Mildly dissonant and brass-intensive, it isn’t negligible. But — ironically for a self-consciously feminist work — most of its notoriety is derived from the title’s deliberate reference to Aaron Copland’s indisputably great “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Next was “The Millcreek at Waxman’s Crossing” by Boones Mill composer Jerome Margolis. In a manner reminiscent of Copland’s so-called “prairie period,” there were tender lyrical passages, open fifths and fourths, and lovely wind sonorities.

After 32 years’ service on the back row, RSO bass trombonist Jim Sochinski retired from the orchestra after this performance. The RSO celebrated his tenure with his “RSO Fanfare No. 6,” which premiered in 1990. Featuring brash horn calls, horn rips, declamatory trumpet passages and a rhythmic figure lifted from Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture,” the piece sounds as fresh as it did two decades ago. Unfortunately, here and later on there were a few egregious horn clams. The seafood was all the more noticeable from a section that normally nails tough passages flawlessly.

George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” complete with acoustic taxi horns and with rather deliberate tempi, got enthusiastic applause. As for the suite from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” you didn’t have a pulse if this performance left you unmoved. This flowering of New World genius is the equal of anything produced by Europe. The RSO’s reading was joyful, heartfelt, exuberant. Ditto the suite from Richard Rodgers’ “Victory at Sea,” crammed with great tunes. It was followed by a standing ovation and shouts of bravo.

After a singalong encore of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” Wiley surprised Sochinski by asking him to conduct John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” with brilliant solo work from the redoubtable Julee Hickox.

What a finale!

Seth Williamson produces “Morning Classics” and “Back Roads & Blue Highways” for public radio station WVTF (89.1 FM) in Roanoke.