Artist-in-Residence Orchestra performs a concert of stories

The Artist-in-Residence Orchestra performed a concert of stories on Feb. 2. Photo by Brandon Key.

Sounds of classic music literature filled the auditorium of the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Feb. 2.
Music students at WCU and members of the Asheville Symphony joined together to form the Artist-in-Residence Orchestra and perform a concert focused on telling stories through music.

Three pieces were played at the concert. The first one, titled “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius, is a tone poem, a one movement piece that is intended to represent an image or piece of literature. According to the concert program, written by Maggie Pazur of WCU, the work was originally composed to be performed at a gala in the capital of Finland to support Finnish patriotism against Russian control and has since become a symbol of Finnish nationalism.

Following a piece representing a real-life historical event was a piece about one of the most popular fiction plays ever written – “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture,” by Pyotr Ilyrich Tchaikovsky, is a 20-minute piece that tells not the plot of “Romeo and Juliet,” but of the characters and their complicated relationships.

A brief intermission was next, and before the start of the final piece, called “Variations on an Original Theme ‘Enigma’” by Edward Elgar, the conductor of the concert, Christopher Confessore, explained the significance of the piece.

The piece is divided into 14 variations, each one named after someone in Elgar’s life, though the people are named only by initials or nicknames. There was a screen behind the performers that showed a portrait of the person the variation was about as the performers played through the piece.

The first variation is about Elgar’s wife, Alice, and the final variation is thought to be a self-reflection that Elgar wrote about himself. There is a common theme that binds all the variations together, but there is another, more hidden theme also, though not many music scholars can agree on what it is.

Guest conductor, Christopher Confessore, addresses the audience and tells them about the 14 variations of the final piece. Photo by Brandon Key.

“I think the theme that is ‘written’ but not played is friendship, and this is one of my favorite pieces of music,” said Confessore before beginning the piece. Around thirty minutes later, the concert was over, and the audience had been told several dynamic stories.

“It was a great concert, and I came to support my friends because it’s cool to see them perform with professional musicians because a lot of them will be doing this for a living one day. It’s a great learning experience,” said Sarah Smith, WCU music student.

Confessore serves as the music director and principal conductor of the Brevard Symphony Orchestra and also as the resident conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. He is actively sought across the nation as a guest conductor and was invited to conduct this orchestra by WCU music professor, Travis Bennett.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with these musicians and to support the relationship between the Asheville Symphony and WCU,” said Confessore.

The Artist-in-Residence Orchestra is a partnership between the WCU School of Music and the Asheville Symphony. This partnership allows music students at WCU an opportunity to perform with professional musicians.

“It was a really enjoyable experience,” said Andrew Capps, a piccolo player and WCU music student who performed in the concert. “I want to be a teacher one day, and I know that experience of being in a professional setting will help me in the future.

This series has brought audiences two decades of musical collaboration between Asheville Symphony string musicians and WCU music students and faculty, presenting live radio shows and an array of concerts.