Concert Artist Series kicks off with soprano and piano

By Hannah Mason, Assistant Editor

On Sunday, Oct. 12 at 4pm, a WLU Division of Music Concert Artist Series performance entitled “Shining Jewels: Celebrating the Songs of Lee Hoiby” graced the Elbin Auditorium in College Hall.

Dr. Colleen Gray, soprano, performed with Dr. Nanette Kaplan Solomon, pianist, both professors at Slippery Rock University.

All of the pieces they performed were the “shining jewels” of American composer Lee Hoiby. This was the first Concert Artist Series performance of the 2014-2015 academic year, opening up the 50th year anniversary for this program.

Though the performance was originally scheduled for two weeks earlier, the rescheduled show still drew a good-sized crowd. I learned why as soon as Gray and Solomon started to perform. Each piece was a musical rendition of a different wellknown poem, from Emily Dickinsonʼs “Wild nights” to Lewis Carollʼs “Jabberwocky.” Even though the lyrics were not original to Hoiby, he wrote a melody and piano accompaniment which served to follow the emotions of the poetry and to tell the story in a new, artistic way.

As Gray noted, Hoiby borrowed many different styles to fit the needs of each poem he worked with, adding a lot of variety to the performance. Each piece, though, was linked together by a common artistic quality which Gray and Solomon maintained throughout the show. Through masterful piano playing and passionate vocals, the pair made each poem sound like a new work of musical art.

Gray and Solomon obviously loved every moment of the performance, drawing the audience into the poetry with them. Gray acted out the different poems—swinging an invisible sword at a Jabberwocky, dancing along to Theodore Roethkeʼs “The Serpent,” and introducing many of the pieces with interesting side notes and anecdotes. Solomonʼs piano accompaniment played out the emotions behind each piece perfectly, as well, adding a sort of fresh, new spin on poems that have been read so many times before.

Besides the playful, intensified rendering of “The Jabberwocky,” which was a fun and surprising addition to the show, my favorite piece was their rendition of Elizabeth Bishopʼs poem “Insomnia.” Their singing and piano playing added a very fitting, haunting quality to the lyrics.

I also enjoyed their performance of Elizabeth Bishopʼs “Filling Station,” delivered in such a way as to make the very ordinary subject of an old-fashioned gas station seem like a work of art. I may not be a scholar of music, but I greatly appreciated and enjoyed the refreshing spin that Colleen Gray and Nanette Solomon took on some familiar poems. In performing Lee Hoibyʼs work, they took two well-loved art forms—music and literature— and combined them to create a very exciting and refreshing performance.

This yearʼs Concert Artist Series is off to a great start. Stay tuned for the next show, by the Bel Cuore Quartet, scheduled to perform at 7pm on Thursday, Oct. 30 at the Wheeling Park High School JB Chambers Performing Arts Center and at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31 in Elbin Auditorium in College Hall.