Charles Jones Evans sees more than silver in this 25th anniversary season starting for the Long Bay Symphony.
In his 17th year as music director/conductor, he sees concerts, including the symphony series opener at 4 p.m. Sunday, “The World of the Dance,” as a golden opportunity to add visuals to well-known, historic music.
Evans called this dance-themed concert one of his favorites, especially with Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” ballet, for which some dancers from Litchfield Dance Arts Academy in Litchfield Beach will share the stage at Myrtle Beach High School.
“People come eager to have visuals,” Evans said, explaining that in such an elegant presentation with a full orchestra, “it puts the listener in a whole new perspective” about the music, “to have an idea with the story line.”
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“Everybody know the part of the ‘The Firebird,’ ” he said, remembering the melody’s use in Disney’s “Fantasia.”
The Myrtle Beach School of Performing Arts and alumni from the Tamburitzans eastern European folk dance ensemble also will step out for other numbers, for Evans said another composer showcased this Sunday, Dvorak, for example, wanted his works to reflect his Czech heritage through folk dances, much as Copland “utilized the hoedown” as part of Americana.
Folk dances, Evans said, “people hear those all the time,” even in TV commercials. He also said another part of the program, Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” dates “from a folk ballet in the 1940s.”
Such compositions, especially with dancers, “make people think about them,” he said.
“It’s just a real eye opener,” Evans said, “the music is fantastic, and it gives them something more from the performance.”
Previewing the other three symphony concerts, about every two months through March, Evans ranks “The Russian Legacy” event on Nov. 4 “right up at the top” in pleasing audiences. He said Shostakovich penned “Festive Overture” right after Stalin’s death, “expressing his own private joy at that,” with a “beautiful ... but not dark” piece.
Evans also said Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges Suite” might be recognized from its use in advertising mayonnaise, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” lets Long Bay showcase its principal players, and that the third of Rachmaninoff’s four piano concertos bears so much “depth.”
“Masterpieces of the Modern Era” on Jan. 20 will include the return of guest soloist Jessica Lee for Walton’s “Violin Concerto,” part of a really huge program, Evans said, which includes Copland’s “El Salon Mexico,” which he called “a little musical postcard ... his best piece of all.”
That concert will end with “one of the greatest orchestral pieces of all time, “Ravel’s ‘La Valse,’ ” Evans said, appreciating the “waltz representing the end of the Romantic era that ended with World War I.”
March 10 brings “Romantic Blockbusters,” what Evans deemed a “meat and potatoes” concert, with such standards as Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” which he said not everyone might have heard in its entirety, along with Saint-Saens’ “Cello Concerto No. 1” and Brahms’ “Symphony No. 1.”
“You can’t get any more standard than that concert,” Evans said, “with something so powerful as the huge Brahms symphony.”
Evans said “we strive to do all kinds of music,” and besides the most familiar pieces, to turn people on to important works that deserve their attention and remind everyone about music’s diversity, including the silent movies and beach music.
“We want people to understand the breadth of music that we represent,” he said.
Special guests, partnerships
Evans said the Long Bay continues an “ongoing partnership” with the Carolina Master Chorale and that a chamber orchestra will join the singers for their 30th anniversary season kickoff, “Elijah,” at 4 p.m. Oct. 28 at Myrtle Beach High, and perform Dec. 1-2 with a group of Chorale members for “Bach and Handel for the Advent Season” at two local churches.
Long Bay’s Pops will team up Oct. 20 at the school for “A Night of a Million Memories” with the group The Association. Evans said this kind of concert represents “a whole new branch of building toward a pops series.”
“That kind of collaboration is a lot of fun,” Evans said.
He remembered the thrill of Long Bay performing with The Moody Blues in 2008 when the former Hard Rock Park opened that summer.
“That kind of thing has been a popular thing to turn to for orchestras,” Evans said of teaming up with classic rock groups. “That ... music is from a period when they were still using acoustic instruments. We’ve come a long way from that. I think it makes you think of real sounds.”
Jim Yester, a guitarist and one of three founding members in The Association – known for such 1960s hits as “Along Comes Mary,” “Cherish,” “Never My Love” and “Windy” – said the band does joint concerts “once every couple of years.”
Yester said the group played with the California Philharmonic twice earlier this year – one at a race track, where a shell was erected for the orchestra, “with 3,000 people on the lawn,” and another date in a brand new performing arts center.
Readying for the night with Long Bay, Yester said, “Two in one year is highly unusual for us” and that The Association loves mingling with fans after such performances.
Adam Neiman, a pianist from Nevada, said he looks forward to playing again with the Long Bay Symphony for its Russian-theme concert in November. He spoke of how Rachmaninoff’s music has moved him since age 15 because of “such universally appealing” music that’s “very powerful emotionally ... with a sense of harmony and melody.”
“He was perhaps the greatest pianist of the 20th century,” Neiman said.
He said perhaps Russian composers’ works resonate in the United States because many “lived in a time period that mirrors ours,” with “all the chaos of their lives and politics swirling around them.”
A way of “playing with timing to create expression” made Rachmaninoff stand out, Neiman said, impressed by such “acceleration and deceleration” in the tempo.
“His music is an exact expression of who he was as a poet and a pianist,” Neiman said.
Much as his friend Maestro Evans likes to share background and color in the music Long Bay performs, Neiman said Rachmaninoff used a music tour to Sweden to defect from the then-Soviet Union, “to get his family out ... and he packed everything that would fit in a suitcase” and eventually wound up across the Atlantic, landing in New York and settling in California.
Excited about tapping the ivories for Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3” with Long Bay, Neiman said it marked the composer’s last work before escaping from his homeland, and his longest, at 45 minutes.
“This is a very long extended saga,” Neiman said. “It really does make you think of an epic.”
At the concerto’s world premiere in New York, Rachmaninoff played the piano as another major composer, Gustav Mahler, conducted, Neiman said, noting the composer played it many more times across the United States and Europe.
Having read of how Mahler made Rachmaninoff feel comfortable at the concerto’s debut by allowing ample rehearsal time, Neiman said he thinks about such a “beautiful atmosphere” when he prepares for concerts, including a return to Long Bay, “where we always seem to give a great, magical performance.”