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Pair of musicians return for Westmoreland Symphony concert

| Friday, Jan. 24, 2003

Pianist Paul Sisco and trumpeter Karen Sloneker see Saturday's concert as a homecoming of sorts - even if they are meeting a stranger at the door.

Sisco was winner of the orchestra's Young Artist Competition in 1984, and Sloneker performed with the ensemble from 1976 through '95.

But the homecoming has an unknown element - Dimitri Shostakovich's first piano concerto.

"I really wasn't familiar with it," Sisco says. "But I was excited about getting the chance to play it, and the more I worked on it, the more I liked it."

It was new to Sloneker, too.

"No, I never played it before and am excited about it," she says - then adds with a laugh, "I've been practicing it at night when I've been doing the laundry."

For both, learning a new work is a common part of the freelance life.

"A lot of times in this work, you have to really prepare something quickly," says the pianist, who has been working on the concerto since the end of summer. That's a long time by freelance standards.

"It's a gypsy life," Sloneker says. "Sometimes, you're so busy you don't know what you're doing, and other times you don't know where your next check is coming from."

Sisco has performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the ensemble that performs at the Benedum Center, downtown Pittsburgh, as well as with the city's Steinway Society and the Pittsburgh Concert Society.

He also has played throughout the United States and in Canada, but admits he doesn't get out of Pittsburgh much because of his commitments to teaching privately and as an adjunct faculty member at Shadyside's Chatham College.

"I've tried to remain somewhat versatile," he says, "so I can do some jazz as well as classical. In this kind of life, you need to do it all."

Sloneker plays trumpet with the orchestras working at ballets and operas in Pittsburgh and also has performed with the River City Brass Band and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble.

She is adjunct on the staff at the city's Rogers School for the Arts and teaches in a children's Music Together program at several places around the city. She also once was on the faculties at Seton Hill University in Greensburg and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Both like the liberty of the freelancing.

"I like that kind of life," Sisco says. "You have a lot of freedom - and you get to sleep in."

They both profess happiness at performing with the Westmoreland orchestra. It will be the first time Sisco has played in a solo role with the orchestra since 1984, and he says he is "looking forward to going back."

Sloneker thinks well of her time with the ensemble and music director Kypros Markou.

"I really credit him with giving me the experience that has made me what I am," she says.

'January Thaw'

  • The Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra with Paul Sisco and Karen Sloneker
  • 8 p.m. Saturday at the Palace Theatre, Greensburg
  • Tickets: $10, $18, $25, $36; $5 for student rush tickets
  • (724) 837-1850

    Trumpeting the piano piece

    Composer Dimitri Shostakovich's use of a trumpet soloist seems to have given his first piano concerto a sound that makes it more than a keyboard showpiece.

    "If you eliminate the trumpet from that concerto, what do you have?" says Kypros Markou, music director of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra. "You would not remember the work nearly so much.

    "It becomes a piano, playing with a string orchestra, and a trumpet making commentary."

    The orchestra will perform the work Saturday with brass soloist Karen Sloneker, who also talks about the role of her horn.

    "It is very fast and very demanding," she says. "And Kypros is right. It does a lot for the concerto. Even adding that delightful little march at the end."

    She talks about how the trumpet part demands a variety of skills from the soloist. The opening section requires solid tone to make its long notes believable. The last movement is built around faster passages that insist a trumpeter have excellent articulation.

    Then emerges the march, which makes an instrumentalist show a sense of melody.

    Sloneker compares it to Aaron Copland's "Quiet City," in which the trumpet part is a main piece of the composition but is part of a musical conversation more than being the chief speaker.

    Markou describes the trumpet part as an obligato, an accompaniment that is so important it is virtually essential.

    "It never really rivals the piano," he says, "but you can never forget it is there."

    - Bob Karlovits

    The same difference

    Politically charged music from the 20th-century's Soviet Union might be closer than it seems to melodies from 19th-century Germany.

    At least, that's why the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra's Kypros Markou scheduled symphonies by Dimitri Shostakovich and Ludwig van Beethoven for Saturday's concert.

    "There is nice contrast between the two," the orchestra's music director says. "But they are similar, too."

    Even if they seem wildly different.

    The concert includes Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, a work so festive "he practically gets drunk," the orchestra's music director says. It is on the same program with the Russian's Symphony No. 9, a work Soviet authorities wanted to be festive but ended up as a cynical statement by Shostakovich (1906-75).

    Even though it has some darkness, Markou says, it also is short, direct and humorous.

    Markou contrasts the two composers to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91).

    "Mozart talked about joy and sorrow, but in an outlook on the human condition," he says.

    "Beethoven and Shostakovich were dealing with social issues."

    He points out how Beethoven (1770-1827) had the empirical designs of France in mind with his third symphony, brotherhood in the ninth, and fate in the fifth.

    It's similar, he says to Shostakovich's looks at World War II in the seventh and eighth, the glories of the Soviet movement in the 11th or its ultimate failings in the 13th.

    "But even when the two of them are complaining, they are optimistic," he says.

    He points out how the finale of Beethoven's third lifts it away from its second-movement funeral march. And Shostakovich's 13th is full of anger at the internal Soviet direction, but ends with a statement of personal hope.

    "They are men of kindred sentiments," Markou says.

    - Bob Karlovits

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