London called, and about 700 concertgoers answered Friday night for the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra concert at NAU’s Ardrey Memorial Auditorium.
The audience was a mix of students and adults of all ages, including more than a sprinkling of seniors, whose enthusiasm for the music was unbridled and heartfelt, with standing ovations after each major portion of the concert program.
In his second appearance on the Ardrey stage, virtuoso violinist Steven Moeckel, who is also the concertmaster with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, traveled up the hill to perform a piece dear to his heart: “Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61.” It is by English composer Sir Edward Elgar and a “masterpiece,” said Moeckel, both intricately written and beautifully orchestrated.
Before he took to the stage, Moeckel waited backstage for the symphony, under the baton of Maestra Elizabeth Schulze, to perform Symphony No. 2, “A London Symphony,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, another English composer, during “London Calling,” the fifth concert in the FSO’s 63rd season.
This symphony proved a real crowd-pleaser, delivering a parfait of multi-layered musical textures and moods.
Williams (1872 – 1958), wrote nine symphonies and composed the London work in 1912-13, revising it after World War I.
The symphony is a kind of tone poem to London, painting the personality of the city at the beginning of the 20th century with a masterful use of orchestral instruments to depict everything from the familiar chimes of Westminster Abbey to the jangling bells of London’s famous Hansom cabs.
The audience seemed to enjoy the way Williams shifted from quiet sections depicting a city coming alive in the early morning hours, to more raucous portions showing a busy and even chaotic London as folks scuttle about visiting parks, gardens and other venues for business and entertainment.
The colors of the city were deftly painted with solos by principals in the orchestra, including viola, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and harp, to name a few.
Members of the percussion family added timely bits of cymbal, snare, bass, musical sticks and triangle.
After a brief break, the audience eagerly returned to their state-of-the-art seats to hear Moeckel perform the Elgar concerto.
In an earlier interview, Moeckel recalled that he and Schulze had discussed performing the Elgar concerto back in September 2008 when he first played with FSO.
“It’s a great love of mine,” he had said. “I just love Elgar’s music in general, and I think the violin concerto is totally underplayed.”
Dressed in all-black, Moeckel, who later said he is 6-foot 5-inches tall, made an imposing presence, as he fondly clutched his fine French violin from the mid-1800s.
Moeckel is no stranger to the stage. Born in Bamberg, Germany, he moved to Florida with his family when he was only 2.
He grew up speaking English, but returned to Germany with his family when he was 10.
By age 11, he was singing as principal soprano with the renowned Vienna Boys Choir. Today, he is equally at home in styles from classical to jazz and is a concertmaster, concerto soloist and recitalist.
Elgar, as did Williams, figured prominently at a new turn of musical history in the early 20th century.
Written at the apex of his career, the concerto was composed for the violinist Fritz Kreisler, who gave the premiere in London in 1910, with the composer conducting.
Elgar himself said he had “written out my soul in the concerto,” which is an intensely personal and autobiographical composition.
Moeckel more than did it credit, playing with great emotion, energy and even ferocity, with his feet firmly planted and swaying in unison with the music during the more physical parts of the piece.
At one point, he broke some strings on his bow, ably plucked them out and continued playing right on cue.
SINGING OF MEMORIES AND HOPE
Moeckel said the entire work is “a huge piece” at 50 minutes, unusually long for a violin concerto, and each movement is treated in a symphonic manner by Elgar in scope and imagery.
The brilliant finale includes a solo cadenza for the violin as the violin “sadly thinks over the first movement…the music [singing] of memories and hope,” the program notes conclude in the words of Elgar.
Moeckel joined members of the FSO family and guests at an after-concert party at Vino Loco downtown. He proved very approachable, friendly and relaxed to the many visitors who came up to chat with him.
There are three more concerts in the FSO season, including a “Mostly Mozart” concert on Feb. 9 at Ardrey.