The final performance of the Prince George's Philharmonic 2013-2014 concert season took place on Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Dekelboum Hall at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, College Park, Maryland. The evening offered the audience a commanding performance of three masters of Western classical music, and a first hearing of an accomplished contemporary composer's work. Elizabeth Palmer's premiered orchestral work, Beyond Space and Time, held its own in the august canonic musical gathering.
The concert began, appropriately, with an overture built in large part on rhythmic pulses which set the stage for the three other works on the program. The orchestra played the Beethoven with technical mastery right to the whispered final notes, a performance that highlighted Ms. Palmer's beautiful tone poem, Beyond Space and Time. Her work with its shifting harmonies and pulsating crescendos was, in turn, reflected in the second movement of the Haydn Symphony, a symphony which itself was built upon shifting harmonies and rhythms that ebbed and flowed until the final resolution. Palmer's sense of timing and her control of harmonic devices allowed her to build on three centuries of compositional technique creating a sound very much her own while at the same time reflective of the classical musical traditions.
Ms. Palmer, who has played the euphonium for 20 years, studied music technology at Susquehanna University, and then completed a master’s degree in music education at Towson University. During those years, she took courses in composition. She taught music for several years in Prince George’s County schools, and has been involved with mentoring young music students. For the past two years she has been studying for her doctorate at the University of Southern California which will include music education, theory and arts leadership.
The Haydn Symphony completed the first half of the program. The usual listener's default position when hearing a major composition in symphonic form for the first time is the recall immediately the two 'exciting' outer movements. I fell for the two inner movements at last night's performance, especially the third movement with its sliding harmonic motif of the minuet and the beautiful bassoon solo in the trio section. The orchestra, with a few intonation struggles for a few seconds in the slow introduction of the Haydn, was in complete control of the music under the masterful direction of its conductor, Maestro Ellis. Mr. Ellis chose to fuse the orchestra section's sound (strings, woodwinds, brass, &c.) rather than highlighting the sections as I have come to expect. This led to a very rich, velvety performance of the first half compositions and set the stage by way of contrast for the Stravinsky.
How does one even begin to review the fabulous, stunning, extraordinary, masterful performance of the Rite of Spring. Speechless comes to mind.
The virtuoso rendition of Stravinsky's monumental score that still “seem[s] to violate all the most hallowed concepts of beauty, harmony, tone and expression" was inspiring. The Italian composer, Roman Vlad, continued his description of the daunting Rite of Spring explaining that "never had an audience heard anything so brutal, savage, aggressive and apparently chaotic" (Roman Vlad, 1967). Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky "collaborated in 1913 on the most shocking, ground breaking music and ballet the world had ever experienced and it may still be the most striking work ever done (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewOBXph0hP4&list=RDewOBXph0hP4#t=1801)." The Prince George's Philharmonic and its conductor, Mr. Ellis, rose to the occasion with their brilliant performance bringing the emotion of the music to the forefront and overcoming any preconceived reservations the audience may have had.
Mr. Ellis and the orchestra surpassed all expectations. Describing the music is tough. Paul Rosenfeld wrote early in the 20th century that it "pound[s] with the rhythm of engines, whirls and spirals like screws and fly-wheels, grinds and shrieks like laboring metal (Rosenfeld. Musical Portraits: Interpretations of Twenty Modern Composers. 1920. p. 202)." To pull off a performance of the piece of music the conductor and the musicians must be as one, and must be at the top of their professional game.
Mr. Ellis let loose opportunities for soloists and featured sectional performances in the nearly half-hour long performance. Mr. Ellis never lost touch with the musical pulses which propel the ballet forward in time and the musicians of the Prince George's Philharmonic rose to a pinnacle of performance; the audience rose to give a standing ovation that was most certainly deserved.
How could you not have been here with us for this once-in-a-lifetime musical offering? It does not get better than this - I can hardly wait for next season's performances
Charles Ellis, conductor
Elizabeth Palmer Beyond Space and Time (World Premiere)
The 2014-2015 Prince George's Philharmonic season will lead off with a War of 1812 bicentennial commemorative concert in Bowie.
The program will feature Rossini's Tancredi Overture, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, Wagner's Siegfried's Rhine Journey, Rodger's Victory at Sea, and Beethoven's Wellington's Victory Op. 91.
The musical evening will follow a daylong symposium, Beyond the Battle, which will explore life in Bladensburg and Prince George's County in the years surrounding the Battle of Bladensburg which was fought in August of 1814.
Topics will cover African American Life, Archeology, Inns, Taverns, Spas and Mills, Music, Horticulture and Agriculture. The program will be held at the University campus in College Park.