The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra presented the second concert in this year’s Masterworks series, “Duo-Piano Fireworks,” to a nearly full house at the Jefferson Center’s Shaftman Hall.
The guest artist was pianist Norman Krieger, who has performed in Roanoke before and is a good friend of Maestro David Wiley, music director and conductor of the RSO. Wiley, also a world class pianist, was right at home as the dueling pianos entertained the very appreciative audience. Several times it seemed as if Wiley’s enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment while playing might cause him to fall off of his stool. One of the songs that was a crowd favorite was Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” Wiley, also a composer and arranger, took the original music and set it for two pianos and orchestra. Grant Ellis, Operations Director of the RSO, informed me that one of the pianos is a Steinway Model D 9′, played by Krieger, and the other smaller piano is a Baldwin, played by Wiley.
The program offered a variety of music, opening with Brahm’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major Op. 83, which filled the first half of the program. Marilyn Coyne, who plays oboe and English horn for the San Francisco Ballet, had many impressive solos during the Brahms. Kelley Mikkelsen, principal cellist of the RSO, received a standing ovation for her solo work in the Brahms piece.
After intermission the orchestra played Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture Op. 62” followed by the Gershwin / Wiley arrangement of “Porgy & Bess Fantasy for Two Pianos.”
Paul Kim, a RSO violinist and former Marine, made his RSO conducting debut leading the orchestra in playing Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor.” His conducting style is “ramrod straight,” which is very different from the flamboyant Wiley. Both the audience and orchestra members were very appreciative of Kim’s performance and also of the piccolo solos by Julee Hickcox.
In this tight economy, when many orchestras are having to shut down or reduce performances, the RSO obviously is surviving due to the capable leadship of both David Stewart Wiley, Conductor, and Beth Pline, Executive Director. Bringing in guest artists is expensive but it adds to the quality of the programs. Since many orchestras are struggling and not spending money for guests, it should be a good time for the RSO to be able to get some top names for very affordable fees.