The Orpheum Theater was filled to its top balconies for the February 27 performance of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, directed by Knox professor Bruce Polay with special guest Russell Peterson. The program for the evening included three pieces: Miacomet Dreaming by Carson Cooman, Concerto for Alto Saxophone by Russell Peterson and the Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Opus 36 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The evening began with a rendition by the symphony, accompanied by the standing audience (brought to their feet by Polay’s exhortation of “Oh, come on, you can do it”), of The Star Spangled Banner.
The first piece performed was Miacomet Dreaming, a new piece composed in 2008. It was a moody and dark piece of music with many disconcerting chords and unnatural transitions. The audience’s reception for this piece by American composer Carson Cooman was relatively cool but the applause was still appreciative.
Following the Cooman piece was the headline piece of the evening, the Concerto for Alto Saxophone performed and written by Russell Peterson. The piece in three parts showcased Peterson on the alto sax, playing wild strings of notes and arabesques. The piece seemed like a work by Gershwin and an overture from a 1960’s toga epic.
When asked about the influences on his work, Peterson said, “I just ripped everybody off. The Samuel Barber violin concerto is the first movement; I just blatantly stole it for sax. The middle movement is based off of a Middle Eastern folk song, imitating the sounds of the Armenian duduk. The last movement is based on Shostakovich’s 10th symphony, cello concerto, and violin concerto.”
Peterson followed the concerto with an impromptu saxophone solo that brought spontaneous applause from the audience. Peterson, visiting from the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, explained to us why he wrote the Concerto for Alto Saxophone.
“There are lots of sax concertos, but frankly, I don’t like them. They never spoke to me the way I wanted to play, so this piece came from frustration. I started writing it 15 years ago and showed it to my conductor 10 years ago,” said Peterson. The Concerto for Alto Saxophone was selected in the Knox-Galesburg Symphony’s international call for scores.
The second half of the concert was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. It was quite competently performed and at the end the audience applauded the orchestra appreciatively, some audience members standing to applaud.