Friday, February 17, 2012

Yeehaw! ESO's Western Roundup

The musicians' formal attire reminds you that you're listening to a serious professional symphony orchestra, but the music takes you to the wild west on toe-tapping themes from classic TV and movie westerns. Maestro Stephen Squires set the tone for ESO's "How The West Was Won" by conducting the overture in a ten-gallon hat.

The program features a wide variety of styles within this unique American symphonic music niche, pioneered in the early twentieth century by the groundbreaking works of Aaron Copland, and settling in the scores of western films, TV series, and even commercial spots. The echoes of old-time fiddlers, cavalry bugles, howling coyotes, and horses' gaits inhabit the sprawling melodies and fanfares of works like John William's "The Cowboys," and Bernstein's "The Magnificent Seven."  Excerpts from Dances from Wolves and Wyatt Earp evoke the drama of gunfights and the color of prairie sunsets.

The prodigious harmonica talents of guest artist Mike Runyan add authentic flavor to orchestral arrangements of American classics like Home on the Range and Shenandoah. With dramatic ease, he switches costumes and instruments throughout the program to produce an amazing range of tones that lead the ensemble in knee-slapping hoedowns and melancholy campfire ballads. Playing this repertoire that any living American will know and love, the ESO's expansive musical palette sounds better in person than any studio orchestra you'll hear in your living room or local cinema.

A western music trivia game, symphony video, and a few surprises make "How the West Was Won" a wonderful way to spend two hours this weekend.  Repeat performances are at 8 pm Saturday and 3:30 pm Sunday.