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ARTS AND HUMANITIES: Aiken Symphony Orchestra sets 2018-19 season

August 3, 2018

“There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it,” once wrote Thomas Sowell. By using this quotation at the beginning of this week’s column, I do not mean to argue that Maestro Donald Portnoy was reading the works of this influential American economist when he was designing the upcoming concert schedule for the Aiken Symphony Orchestra.

Yet, the 2018-19 season will feature a record-breaking seven offerings, perhaps not enough to satisfy all local fans of orchestral music but certainly moving in the right direction.

The Sept. 15 concert marks the beginning of the season with three selections by Leonard Bernstein, whose centenary is being celebrated worldwide this year. Each piece is from one of the composer’s works for the stage: the overture to the operetta “Candide,” three dance episodes from the musical “On the Town,” and symphonic dances from “West Side Story.”

The only non-Bernstein piece in the opening concert will be George Gershwin’s jazz-inspired “Piano Concerto in F.” Written in 1925, the work was premiered with the composer himself at the keyboard; for the ASO program, however, the soloist is Xiayin Wang, a native of China who came to this country in 1997 to study at the Manhattan School of Music. Since her relocation, she has toured the world and released four recordings.

The highlight of the second concert of the season is bound to be Peter Tchaikovsky’s perennially popular “Violin Concerto in D Major” written in 1878 and inspired by what his modern biographers hypothesize as the composer’s short-lived affair with violinist Iosif Kotek. There is no denying that the piece is both tender and passionate. The ASO soloist will be Paul Huang, a Taiwan native who graduated from Juilliard and just released his first CD, a collection of short works often performed as encores.

The Oct. 20 concert will also include a performance of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” (1893), which is perhaps best known for the theme from the “largo” movement, which was later used as the basis of the beautiful 1922 song “Goin’ Home” with lyrics by William Arms Fisher.

For the holiday season, the orchestra has scheduled two December concerts. In addition to its annual “Home for the Holidays” concert, there will be a special performance of George Frederic Handel’s “Messiah” at the new sanctuary of St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church. For this Dec. 18 concert, the orchestra will be joined by four soloists and a chorus selected by Dr. Portnoy.

The new year will be ushered in with a Feb. 16 concert titled “The Best of Classical Guitar.” For this program, the orchestra will feature perhaps the best classical guitarist in the world today, the multiple Grammy-winning Sharon Isbin, who founded the guitar program at Juilliard. She will be performing not one but two guitar concerti: the “D Major Concerto” by Antonio Vivaldi and the magnificent “Concerto De Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo. Works by Johannes Brahms and Alberto Ginastera will round out what may very well be the high-water mark of the upcoming season.

Works by Dvorak and Rachmaninoff will be showcased in the April 2 concert: Antonin Dvorak’s “Te Deum” written to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s historic voyage to the New World and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” written while the latter was resident in the United States and living in exile from his native Russia (1918-1943).

In the final concert of the season on May 11, the ASO will perform instrumental music from Broadway musicals. With the exception of Handel’s “Messiah” on Dec. 18, all performances will be at USCA’s Etherredge Center. For more information regarding the fourth season of the Aiken Symphony Orchestra, visit aikensymphonyorchestra.com. Subscriptions for packages of four to six concerts are available as well as tickets for single performances.

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