Performing Arts

Blue Ridge Orchestra Bids Farewell to Winter

Alex Wray

The Blue Ridge Orchestra will present Cantus Terrae, an Earth Day concert, at the Folk Art Center on Saturday, April 22, and Sunday, April 23, at 3 p.m. Music director Milton Crotts says the production celebrates spring, a season whose élan embodies “newness and rebirth.” Yet the opening piece, Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” was not initially inspired by budding dogwoods, daffodils breaking soil—or even the Appalachians for that matter.

In 1944, choreographer Martha Graham commissioned Copland to write a ballet with an “American theme.” He soon enough churned out a composition scored for a 13-member chamber orchestra, but it was Graham that tacked on spring sensibilities. Her dance personifies young lovers in western Pennsylvania reflecting on their bond before exchanging vows. The pioneer wedding comes alive onstage, and the final impression is of natural growth.

“The narrative, built around music, tells the story of a country couple getting ready to be married and set up their own home in the wilderness,” says orchestra manager Melon Wedick.

Unlike “Appalachian Spring,” the second performance— Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony”—is programmatic music that describes “scenes from a woods journey,” says Wedick. Strings represent water lapping in a natural runnel and the timpani and violin recall a thunderstorm. Woodwinds imitate birdcalls: flutes for nightingale, oboes for quail and clarinets for cuckoo. Through five movements, the 68-member symphony walks listeners through a bucolic pasture, riverbed, crowd of merry country folk and a rainstorm.

“The music can easily be felt,” says Wedick. “The listener gets swept away in the sensations, arriving in the countryside, dandling feet in the brook, stumbling on the gathering, being threatened by the storm and feeling the sun come out again when it’s all over.”

Guests are encouraged to ditch their wool britches to celebrate Appalachia’s own escape from Old Man Winter’s grasp. The 935-mile Mountain-to-Sea trail is accessible from the Folk Art Center’s grounds.

“We are thrilled to be taking advantage of the beautiful mountain setting,” says Wedick. The shady, forested venue is appropriate for a concert that “celebrates spring and the natural world around us.” The Folk Art Center is located at Milepost 382 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Tickets to Cantus Terrae are $5 for students, $10 for Friends of the Blue Ridge Orchestra and $15 for all others. For more information about the Blue Ridge Orchestra and to reserve tickets visit blueridgeorchestra.org

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