Composer Christopher Cerrone. Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

From Silence to Splendor

The Louisville Orchestra
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Dashon Burton, vocalist

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

As with many good things, the 2022-2023 Classics Series came to an end on Saturday night with a highly anticipated world premiere and a dedication to tympanist Jim Rago, who we lost earlier this year, after a storied 50-year career with the Louisville Orchestra.

Sitting on stage right, under a beautiful dim light was Mr. Rago’s tympani with a beautiful flower arrangement on top. One could feel his presence behind the instruments, mallets at the ready, and an anticipating sly smile spread across his face, waiting to strike the skins with bombastic want and prowess.

When Teddy Abrams addressed the audience about losing Mr. Rago he spoke about his musicology, humanity, and the joy that he found in performing. In hs memory, the Orchestra performed Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E minor WAB 107. As Rago was a devotee of the composer.

It had been a while since I had heard the LO perform any Bruckner so it was nice to see it on the program. Abrams shared that he felt that this piece was a fitting tribute as it is influenced by deep religious and life-affirming music, such as those found in celebrations and folk dancing.

Written in four movements, No. 7 is exceedingly “waltzy and schmaltzy”. There is no denying the 3/4 feel that is strewn throughout the piece, alluding to the waltz and influence of folk dance, but there is also the schmaltz which speaks to thematic repetition and the writing style of the Romantic period.

There is a propensity for Bruckner’s work to feel rushed and not given proper room, thus leaving the audience with a diminished appreciation for the details within the writing. Tightness and control are absolute necessities in getting to the full effect of Symphony No. 7 and for the most part, our Louisville Orchestra did quite well in achieving that task. 

There were several moments of musical mastery that made my ears and heart giddy such as in the second movement, Adagio, the second violins getting a chance to shine with their introduction of the theme as well as a sublime diminuendo from the horns to strings that was delicate and tender. Just as you are lulled by the tranquility, crash goes the cymbals. In the third movement, Scherzo, the trumpet leads to an exciting theme that is echoed throughout the movement. 

All in all, I believe it was a fitting dedication to our beloved late Jim.

Abrams has long touted how important it is to the Louisville Orchestra program that we seek out and perform new pieces and we were lucky to listen to one such work that was premiered over the weekend.

After reading a short story titled The Year of Silence by Kevin Brockmeier, composer Christopher Cerrone was taken with the imagery within the story and began sketching out musical notes back in 2012 for a possible score. But, like many of us, he filed it away and worked on other projects. In the quiet of then pandemic Cerrone reached back into his files and began to put Brockmeier’s words to music, encouraged by Teddy Abrams who suggested it be premiered in Louisville.

Cerrone uses a narrator and singer to represent text from the story and reached out to his friend Dashon Burton, who has the voice for both speaking and singing, having had a successful career performing for conductors such as Michael Tilson Thomas and performing in San Francisco and Carnegie Hall.

One way that Cerrone wanted to make this piece different is in how he achieved sounds from the various instruments. For example, when is the last time that you saw trumpeters pound on their mouthpieces to produce a note? Strings scratching their strings? 

Other enthralling notes were trills within the piano and the highest pitches on the strings as well. And in the distance, percussion is kind of doing their own thing. And that was the point.

So, where is the silence, you may ask? That answer is in a warm delivery by the orchestra that feels like a hug that is comforting and comfortable. There is contentment and security in the music while our narrator tells of the changes that a city has made to quiet the cacophony of noise. It is fantastical, to be sure, and is something that I am sure many people experienced to some degree during lockdown. 

The narration and orchestration were always in synch and in a pleasing tempo. If I had one thing to nitpick on, that would be I would have loved a little more singing. 

But one day, an unexpected sound was made and before long the silence was broken and we could hear the pile drivers and traffic of the city once again. Listen to the text and listen to the percussion…..there’s been a hidden message all along. 

This piece had me enraptured in its delivery and performance since the first strike on the piano. There is a lesson in the story and there is a new way of writing music as well. I can easily see this becoming a part of the canon of orchestral performances. Absolutely stunning.

Thank you for another year of thrills, chills, and fantastic music!

Bravi Tutti 

From Silence to Splendor

May 13, 2023

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.