The Asheville Symphony Orchestra presented a multi-media sensory feast in the form of its Masterworks 3 concert on Saturday, Nov. 20. The evening (performed to a near-capacity crowd) included Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Overture and Incidental Music, Opus 21 and 61, “For Cecilia” Opus 30 by Gerald Finzi and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin. Accompanying the three works were performers from NC Stage Company, tenor soloist Scott Joiner, soprano soloist Elizabeth Grayson, mezzo-soprano soloist Janine Hawley and the Asheville Symphony Chorus.
From the start, I was excited about the collaboration between the actors and the symphony. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and, even being performed on a mid-autumn evening, that sense of other-worldly magic and playful trickery was welcome. And, for the most part, both parties created those moments of wonder. Actors Dusty McKeelan and Vivian Smith as Bottom and Titania, respectively, were most entertaining in their roles; the symphony took on the part of an additional actor as well as the set, coloring in the mood and scenery of the play with Mendelssohn’s composition. The movements varied from the light strings-led Scherzo to sweeping creshendos, delicate cymbals, a promenade of bassoons and the crisp, buoyant “Wedding March.”
The defining moment, when actors and musicians fully fused on stage, was when McKeelan (as Bottom) leaped onto the conductor’s stand and exaggeratedly directed the symphony while music director/conductor Daniel Meyer turned the pages for the actor.
But, for as much fun as the Midsummer Night’s Dream half of the concert was, the evening’s second half — which focused on voice rather than drama — was a pleasant surprise. Joiner’s solo was a highlight of the concert. His rich tenor and range were well matched to the regal music. Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music, and Finzi’s composition was set to verses by Edmund Blunden. The Asheville Symphony Chorus’ huge wall of sound from the back of the room was like another symphonic instrument in the 19-minute piece.
The final number rounded out the evening with warm, exotic strains of oboe that gave way to exciting snare rolls and cymbal crashes. The composer’s Russian influence gave the piece a “Nutcracker” flavor, effectively delivering the audience from the warm grip of midsummer onto the threshold of the holiday season.
Which brings us to the next Asheville Symphony performance — the Holiday Pops concert on Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. The event includes the Asheville Symphony Chorus directed by Dewitt Tipton and the Asheville Symphony Children’s Chorus directed by Timothy Wilds.