By Marcy Stamper
The theme will be freedom, emancipation and celebration when local musicians and half-a-dozen visiting professional artists perform orchestral and choral works this Friday (May 12).
This year’s Pipestone Music Days features masterworks like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, tours de force for vocal and violin soloists, and the premier of an original composition by Pipestone Orchestra conductor Matt Armbrust.
The Cascadia Chorale will present three pieces, including the well-loved spiritual “Little Wheel A-Turnin’ in My Heart” and a beautiful arrangement of the traditional song “Shenandoah.” “Shenandoah,” about a Native American princess, has a long trajectory in American history. The song was picked up by French-Canadian fur trappers and later became a popular riverboat song, said chorale conductor Dana Stromberger.
Many program selections are by American composers and accentuate freedom and liberty, but the concert includes a nod to Europe. “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” highlights French culture, and the beautiful “The Lark Ascending” is by 19th-century British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who set the music to a poem by fellow countryman George Meredith.
Even the Beethoven includes a little-known tribute to freedom. In his score for the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven inscribed the words “La Liberté” in a reference to the French Revolution, according to Armbrust.
Performing the complete Beethoven symphony is a coup for the musicians and a dream for Armbrust, currently in his first year conducting the ensemble. “I programmed it for a couple of reasons,” said Armbrust. “It’s a landmark piece and, as a pedagogue and a conductor, you’re looking for pieces that push and inspire the orchestra.”
Vanessa Moss, a gifted violinist from Portland, is featured in “The Lark Ascending,” which Armbrust described as a “stunning, shimmering piece.” The poem describes a lark riding the freedom of the wind, he said.
The chorale teams up with the orchestra on Armbrust’s “I Have a Dream,” a minimalist work with eerie modal harmonies. In writing the piece, Armbrust was inspired by Martin Luther King and chose to include spoken and sung sections of “The New Colossus,” the poem on the Statue of Liberty.
The Pipestone brass section will open the concert with “Fanfare for the Common Man” by American composer Aaron Copland. Another piece will highlight two local musicians, soprano Rebecca Kinney and Pipestone violinist Anna Dooley.
It’s unusual for the chorale to perform in the spring but, after the holiday concert, two dozen singers were eager to keep on singing, said Stromberger.
The concert will also feature a solo by a talented young cellist, this year’s winner of the Christine Cherrington Merit Award. Stephanie Strong, age 13, will play two movements from a J.S. Bach suite for unaccompanied cello.
“I had zero exposure to classical music,” said Strong, when, as a third grader, she accompanied her older brother when he got to choose an instrument. They let her try a cello. “I just fell in love with it, I guess. They decided I was mature enough to join the program.”
It’s fairly unusual for kids to start out on cello because of the size of the instrument. Strong started on a reduced-size cello, but this year graduated to a full-size instrument with beautiful low notes. “It’s nice to have more room and a longer bow,” which gives it a richer tone, she said.
Strong has been serious about the cello from the start, and aspires to a performance and conducting career.
She’ll play the Sarabande and Allemande, both dance movements, from the Bach cello suite. “It’s not very hard to learn the notes, but it’s difficult to get the finer points and complicated emotions across,” she said. “My mother says the goal is to make her cry.”
Saturday (May 13) brings informal, free music in Winthrop while ’49er Days festivities are underway. The Papillon Quartet, featuring Strong, along with Keeley Brooks and Lena Nelson on violin and Simon Studen on viola, will perform at Confluence Park from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
The Pipestone Orchestra and Cascadia Chorale concert is Friday (May 12) at 7 p.m. in the Methow Valley Community Center auditorium. Admission is by donation, with reserved seating available for $15 through brownpapertickets.com.