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Music

Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra looks at masters

| Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, 8:55 p.m.
Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra artistic director Daniel Meyer
Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra
Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra artistic director Daniel Meyer

Daniel Meyer says American music is like the nation itself: full of the familiar and the unknown.

For that reason, the artistic director of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra has put together a concert that features what everyone expects — and what some won't know.

The orchestra will perform its look at “American Masters” on Feb. 21 at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

“There are special composers to include,” Meyer says, “but I wanted to avoid the cliche.”

There will be works by Aaron Copland, but they will not be the familiar “Appalachian Spring.” Instead, they will be “A Lincoln Portrait,” four of his “Old American Songs” and “The Promise of Living.”

There will be a work by Leonard Bernstein, but it is his “Chichester Psalms” and not “West Side Story.”

Finally, there will be a work Meyer describes as “amazing, confident, craggy and mysterious”: Symphony No. 3 by Roy Harris.

Meyer says putting together an American concert has significance for an orchestra headquartered in the home of an organization that focuses on American culture — the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Besides featuring items that are not always the best-known American works, the concert will provide singular performance opportunities. Gene A. Saraceni, who once taught drama at Seton Hill University, will be the spoken-word soloist for “A Lincoln Portrait.”

Liam McCarthy, 11, the son of Patrick and Michelle McCarthy of the Fox Chapel area, will be the boy soprano soloist in the Bernstein piece.

And four members of the Westmoreland Symphony Chamber Singers will offer works from “Old American Songs.” Jennifer Dail will sing “At the River,” Cameron Pampus will do “Zion's Walls,” Laurie Racculia will perform “The Little Horses” and Alexandra Swartz will do “Simple Gifts.”

Each of the compositions seems to create its own challenges.

Saraceni, for instance, has done plenty of narration and spoken word in his career, he says, but never a piece with an orchestra.

To make the voice-orchestra interplay simpler, Meyer says he has altered “A Lincoln Portrait” a little so that the music doesn't interfere with the speaker.

Saraceni says he's pleased to be presenting Lincoln's thoughts and some of his quotations. He says he has been listening to various versions of it “to get a sense of how the music relates to the segments” of spoken words.

The work has been recorded by a top-notch set of narrators, from Gregory Peck to Katharine Hepburn.

In the same way, Marc Touree, director of the chamber singers, says that group will be slightly bigger in the Bernstein work simply to “give it a little more reinforcement” for what it asks musically.

Meyer says the use of vocal works, in some ways, helps define his basic outlook on music.

“A good melody is a melody that can be sung,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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