September 13, 2016
Sometimes a change of venue is just what you need to grow up. And the opening of Cape Fear Community College's Wilson Center has provided the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra an irresistible opportunity to do just that, starting Saturday night.
“The move was an evolution for us,” said the symphony's music director, Steven Errante. “The hall was opening last year. We had already planned our season at Kenan Auditorium, which has been our home for more than 40 years. We’re a little like a battleship in that you can’t just suddenly make a U-turn.”
So, the orchestra performed its season last year at Kenan, on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, except for the “Magical Mystery Tour” pops concert. According to WSO executive director Reed Wallace, that concert, given in the Wilson Center, erased any doubt about the benefits of moving downtown.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Wallace said. “We have a great partnership with the university, and that will continue. We will continue to present our youth concerts at Kenan and play our 50th anniversary concert there.”
But Wallace and the orchestra’s board couldn’t ignore the success of its first Wilson Center concert, one which saw a dramatic increase in the number of Brunswick County audience members. In fact, Wallace said, 35 percent of the audience at the pops concert crossed the river, helping pack the hall.
“There is a whole list of things that make the Wilson Center more suited to the needs a symphony orchestra in terms of space and acoustics,” Errante said.
The backstage accommodations for the musicians, as well as the size of the stage, seem luxurious compared to the WSO’s old digs.
Wallace and Errante each spoke of the remarkable acoustical engineering that projects sound from the stage into the hall, and allows the musicians to hear one another on stage. Indeed, Saturday's concert, billed as "Four Centuries of Orchestra Music," is meant to make the most of these improvements with music by Giovanni Gabrieli, Joseph Haydn, Richard Wagner, Benjamin Britten and Arturo Marquez.
“So, the Gabrieli is for three brass choirs,” Errante said. “We’re going to place two of them up in the side balconies, and the third across the audience, so we’ll get that 'Saint Mark’s effect,'” referring to the way musicians were placed around the reverberating space of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the space for which the "Canzon Noni in 12 Voices" was written.
The orchestra will try out its crisp Classical articulation with Haydn’s "Symphony No. 96," then explore the Wilson Center space with the opulence of “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Wagner’s massive operatic tetralogy “The Ring of the Nibelungs.”
The concert’s second half opens with Britten’s “Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Purcell,” better known as “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” which, as the name implies, gives each section of the orchestra a chance to shine.
Errante described Marquez’s "Danzon No. 2" as “a built in encore,” filled as it is with an irresistible rhythmic pulse and rich tonal palette based on the Mexican dances that inspired it.
“I really wanted to test drive this place,” Errante said of the Wilson Center.