John Frayne | Eager to hear more of composer's work

John Frayne | Eager to hear more of composer's work

The Champaign-Urbana Symphony offered a chamber music concert of the music of Stacy Garrop on Sept. 5 in the ballroom of the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign. Garrop is in the second year of her position as composer-in-residence with the C-U Symphony. At the concert's beginning, the orchestra's music director, Stephen Alltop, welcomed the audience, and Garrop throughout the performance offered comments on her compositions.

From the evidence of Garrop's "Mythology Symphony," movements of which were played by the symphony last season, she is strongly attracted to Greek mythical themes, and hence it was no surprise that two of the three works played had mythological subjects.

"Phoenix Rising," for solo flute, described the process by which the mythical bird, Phoenix, after 500 years, burns to ashes, from which arises a new Phoenix. Flutist Amanda Pond, playing the larger alto flute, at first produced delicately the low, sighing, almost inaudible, passage by which the death of the Phoenix is described. With a smaller flute, of the usual concert size, the music evolved to a happier level, with chirping phrases, and Pond skillfully managed the surge to an impressive climax, as a proud, resolute new Phoenix emerged.

On Saturday, March 9, a major work by Garrop will be performed by the C-U Symphony, four soloists, the University of Illinois Oratorio Society and the Central Illinois Children's Chorus. This work, "Terra Nostra" ("Our Earth"), deals with the relationship between mankind and the planet Earth.

At the Sept. 5 concert, two solo vocal excerpts, both on texts by Walt Whitman, were performed.

The first, a segment beginning "A Child said, What is the grass?" was sung by soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, who is familiar to local audiences from her appearances at recent holiday concerts. With a bright and soaring voice, she expressed the tender rapture of this passage.

Then, baritone Ryan de Ryke sang a lovely sequence beginning with the line "Smile O voluptuous cool-breathed earth!" In this solo-aria, Garrop's music outshone even Whitman's ornately exalted lines. The string quartet accompaniment for this section was especially fine.

The longest work on the program was Garrop's String Quartet No. 3, entitled "Gaia," who was the ancient Greek Earth Goddess. The string quartet members were Maria Arrua, violin, whom conductor Alltop announced to be the new concertmaster of the C-U Symphony; Aaron Jacobs, violin; Robin Kearton, viola; and Barbara Hedlund, cello.

After a first movement that introduced the Gaia theme, the second movement, "Creation of Mother Earth," vividly depicted chaos gradually evolving itself into cosmos.

The third movement, "Dances," had pizzicato segments, and evoked in me bittersweet emotions.

The fourth movement, "Lamentation," had been the inspiration for the "Sirens" movement in Garrop's "Mythology Symphony," and at one moment of destructive uproar, the instruments beat out the S. O. S. alarm in Morse code.

The fifth movement, "...et in terra pax," offered some consolation and ended on a quietly questioning note. The quartet players, conducted by Alltop, eloquently projected the alternating brutalities and beauties of this moving work.

From the friendly atmosphere of this charming concert, I am eager to hear Garrop's oratorio "Terra Nostra," a work that sets texts by some of the major poets of the English language: aside from Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelly, Lord Byron, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Like her music, Garrop's tastes in poetry lean romantic.

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at frayne@illinois.edu.

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