In tribute to our nation’s veterans, the Carmel Symphony Orchestra presented an inclusive program of music in its “Masterworks 2: Veteran’s Salute” concert, Saturday, at The Palladium at the Center at the Performing Arts. Leading the CSO was guest conductor David Commanday.
In his director’s note, maestro Commanday stated that the concert consisted of “four distinctly different works, that nevertheless can be connected by one theme — the power of diversity when unified.” The program included Valarie Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem of Unity,” Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” Mitch Leigh’s “Impossible Dream,” with soloist J’lan Stewart, Charles Ives‘s “Variations on ‘America,’ and William Grant Still’s “Symphony No. 1 ‘Afro-American.” Ultimately, what the individual pieces had in common was the emotional power each held to move and inspire me. Under the potent direction of Commanday, the CSO players sparkled with vitality.
Act 1 which opened with Coleman’s “Umoja, An Anthem of Unity” which shifts in moods that vary from sweet to dissonant and aggressive to gentle, spoke to me for its expression of unity and humanity. Ravel’s somber “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” composed between 1914 and 1917, deeply moved me as well. Each of its four movements is dedicated to the memory of friends of the composer who died in World War I.
Act 2 commenced with 18-year-old J’lan Stewart, Songbook Academy alum singing “Impossible Dream” from the musical “Man of La Mancha.” Poised and self-assured, the Kokomo college student commanded the stage like a seasoned performer, regaling the crowd with talent that portends a great career ahead for the emerging artist. Stewart’s triumphant symphony orchestra solo debut was followed by Ive’s highly appealing and appropriate “Variations on ‘America,” Concluding the concert was “Symphony No. 1 ‘Afro-American.” Still, often referred to as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” composed the work, infused with elements of jazz and blues, in 1930. The symphony, that was one of the most popular and widely performed for decades, still resonates for the hope, joy and pride it signifies.
Guest conductor Commonday once again impressed me as he did at CSO’s October 8 opening night concert. A music educator, his comments to the crowd from the podium regarding the program selections were interesting and educational. It was apparent from the applause he received that the crowd approved and felt engaged. In the end, his informative remarks also helped make the music accessible. Also approving were the musicians who wore big smiles on their faces during a sustained curtain call when he had each section stand for bows.
In the spirit of diversity and its power to unify during a period of deep division, the evolving Carmel Symphony Orchestra deserve kudos. By programming music by African American composers and showcasing the talents of an emerging artist who is Black, the CSO proves that it is indeed paying more than lip service to the principal of inclusiveness and should be commended.
For information about the 2023-2024 Carmel Symphony Orchestra season visit thecenterpresents.org.