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Pro Arte concert features odd mix of narrators and instruments


PRO ARTE Chamber Orchestra (it's too long if it's all caps)

Craig Smith, conductor.

Sue Ellen Kuzma and

Drew Minter, narrators.

Sanders Theatre, Sunday, Feb. 11.


SUNDAY NIGHT'S PRO ARTE "A Soldier's Tale," written by Stravinsky in 1918, is scored for violin, bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, percussion, and two narrators. Pro Arte used an adaption of the text by Rick Foster, which changes the story from Russian to American. The soldier was renamed Johnny and now returns to Tennessee after the Civil War.

Foster's story resembles the Charlie Daniels Band song "The South will rise again!" except that Johnny initially gives up his fiddle. Johnny's sick girlfriend Linda-Sue makes Johnny realize that the devil is a bad guy and that all races and religions are equal. Johnny tricks the devil into giving him back his fiddle, and since "everybody knows that the devil can't help but dance when he hears good fiddlin'," the devil is banished back to hell. At first the narrators' thick Southern accents did not seem to go with Stravinsky's music, but the violin playing sounded just enough like a "ho-down" to make it work.

"Fa,cade" was written five years after "A Soldier's Tale," when Sir William Walton was 21 years old. He was friends with Edith Sitwell and wanted to set some of her poems to music. Since singing the verses would defeat Sitwell's aim of showing the rhythms of the English language, the words are spoken "precisely in rhythm but with no indication whatsoever of pitch." The two speakers are accompanied by flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, percussion, and cello.

Walton uses the six musicians to their fullest extent. The flute doubles on piccolo, the trumpet player uses three mutes, the clarinet player also plays bass clarinet, the percussionist plays snare, cymbal, castanets, and tambourine, and the cellist plays high like a violin and plucks like a bass. It is fascinating to hear this group of instruments sound first like an orchestra and then like a Dixieland band.

Both narrators were good, but Drew Minter especially shined with his convincing Southern drawl in "A Soldier's Tale" and his fast talking in "Fa,cade." Craig Smith did a good job in his first time as conductor of Pro Arte. All of the musicians were outstanding, but most notable were the violin playing of Kristina Nilsson, representing Johnny in "A Soldier's Tale," and the percussion playing of Jeffrey Fischer, representing Lucifer in "A Soldier's Tale" and playing some tricky tambourine thumb rolls in "Fa,cade."