Uplifting performance: ASO concert ‘On Wings of Songs’ inspired by birds

Courtesy photo Concertmaster Genaro Medina will be a featured performer at the “On Wings of Songs” concert to be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Altoona.

The Altoona Symphony Orchestra and two featured soloists bring ethereal, musical delights to The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament Nov. 10 during its “On Wings of Songs” concert.

The Cathedral works particularly well with acoustical performances, Maestra Teresa Cheung said. “We have performed at the Cathedral before, and each time we performed there we had very different performing forces. Acoustical music performances have a lot to do with the performance space. It is important to select a space that will work well with the pieces that we have chosen for the program.”

Also, a change in venue provides an opportunity to reach a different audience.

“Our upcoming concert ‘On Wings of Songs’ is a program that features compositions that are inspired by birds — and other winged creatures,” she said. “This is no surprise how human beings draw on nature for inspiration. We see this in every art form and for music, we seek inspirations on nature’s sound. What’s more inspiring than the plethora of songs that we hear from the best songsters in the world?”

The symphony will perform five works composed with a variety of bird songs and sounds in mind.

“The opening is a ‘tongue in cheek’ piece by Franz Joseph Haydn, who is known as the “Father of Symphony” because of his prolific output. I have chosen his witty and playful Symphony No. 83, which is nicknamed ‘The Hen’ to open the concert,” Cheung said.

This is followed by “The Lark Ascending,” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

“We will be featuring our concertmaster Genaro Medina on ‘The Lark Ascending,’ decidedly one of the most lyrical and intimate works in the solo violin repertoire,” Cheung said. “The most stunning fact about the piece is that it was written around the time of World War I when Europe was in turmoil. One can hear the deep yearning of the composer seeking solace from nature of a bygone era.”

The concert’s second half begins with music from another English composer Frederick Delius. Delius lived in Florida for a short time.

His two pieces “reflect the perfect setting of spring and summer where nature works it rebirthing magic,” she said. “In the first piece ‘On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring,’ we are encountering one of the most familiar song birds in nature, and perhaps more aptly, in the idyllic English pastoral landscape.”

“While French composer Claude Debussy’s ‘Danses Sacree et Profane’ is not about birds but rather the solo instrument for the work: The harp. For some reason, the harp is always associated with angels, a mythical winged creature. This is our first time to feature the harp as a solo instrument since my tenure and I think the cathedral is simply the most perfect setting for this work. I cannot wait to hear our soloist Frances Duffy performing it in the space!” Cheung said.

Duffy may be familiar to ASO subscribers as she played with the ASO in the late 1980s and early 1990s while a student at Carnegie Mellon. The cathedral, she said is also a familiar — and fun — venue for her.

“It’s fun to play in because it is so alive acoustically. Anytime you have marble floors and a lot of hard surfaces then there is a resonance. It may require a slightly slower tempo, but that’s OK by me,” she said.

Italian composer Ottorino Respighi, who has been featured a few times by the orchestra, completes the concert.

“Generally we know about Respighi’s epic works for large orchestra such as “Roman Festival” and “Pines of Romes,” Cheung said.

“But Respighi also has an intimate side of him that favors refined music for small ensembles. His Gli Uccelli ‘The Birds’ is a fine example of his magic with refined orchestration and colors. A few famous songsters of the ornithological world are featured here. This is a very fun and colorful work and it is the first time we are playing this for the Altoona audience,” Cheung added.

Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

If you go

What: “On Wings of Songs,” concert by Altoona Symphony Orchestra, Teresa Cheung, music director and conductor, with solos by concertmaster Genaro Medina and harpist Frances Duffy

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, One Cathedral Square, Altoona

Tickets: $32 for adults, $12 for students; Online at http://mishlertheatre .org or by calling 944-9434

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