RSO features solo winds at Jefferson Center

Posted: Saturday, November 12, 2016 11:14 pm

By Timothy Gaylard Special to The Roanoke Times

On Saturday night, the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of David Stewart Wiley, performed a program entitled “Sinfonia Italiana” in the Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center. The orchestra played pieces by Rossini, Mozart and Mendelssohn, all written when the composers were in their early twenties.

The evening began with Rossini’s delightful overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers. Here the string section played with precision, led capably by concertmaster Akemi Takayama. But the excellent woodwind section also came to the fore, in particular the clear and agile tones of Julee Hickcox’s piccolo. Maestro Wiley led an exciting performance, paying close attention to both lyrical and rhythmic qualities and building the characteristic crescendos to exhilarating effect.

To end the first half of the program, the relatively obscure Sinfonia Concertante for Winds, attributed to Mozart, featured Bill Parrish on oboe, Carmen Eby on clarinet, Cynthia Cioffari on bassoon and Wally Easter on French horn. All are principals in the orchestra and showed their great ensemble experience by playing in perfect synchronization, whether it was the rapid passagework tossed between Parrish and Eby, or the mellifluous thirds of Cioffari and Easter. All four players were certainly up to the work’s considerable challenges, both musically and technically. The second movement, with its long sustained melodies, was especially beautiful.

After intermission, Mendelssohn’s very popular Italian Symphony closed the concert. Here, Wiley elicited a strong performance from the orchestra, emphasizing the joyous and almost breathless aspects of the work, especially in the way he moved seamlessly from one movement into another. The first movement had all the requisite exuberance, and the polyphonic lines stood out with great clarity.

The second movement, somewhat faster than usual, moved inexorably to a satisfying conclusion and the exquisite tone of Carmen Eby’s clarinet was particularly memorable in the second theme.

The elegance of the minuet movement, including some fine horn, bassoon and trumpet playing, was quickly followed by the pulsating saltarello rhythms of the final movement, where once again the strengths and varied colors of the wind section proved to be as reliable and responsive as they had been all evening.

After the standing ovation at the end of the Mendelssohn, Wiley announced an unexpected encore — the famous “Air on a G String” from Bach’s Suite No. 3. In this work, concertmaster Akemi Takayama was the soloist and brought her warm and expressive tone to the gorgeous Italianate melody. At the end, a sign of the success of this performance was the magical, hushed silence before the audience once again stood in appreciation.

The whole concert will be given again on Sunday at 2 [3] p.m. in the Jefferson Center. For tickets, call the box office at 540-343-9127 or order online at

Timothy Gaylard is Professor of Music at Washington and Lee University