Gwyneth Walker

Wallingford Hears Composer's Debut

by Jim Zebora, The Meriden Record-Journal
Published 3/24/85

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Read notes for Essay for Orchestra (1985)

The Wallingford Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director Philip T. Ventre, displayed its highly professional style once again Saturday night in a concert of classical works written as long as the early 19th century and as recently as December.

Among the highlights of this concert at the Paul Mellon Arts Center was the world premiere performance of Essay for Orchestra, a one-movement, 12-minute symphonic work by New Canaan composer Gwyneth Walker.

Essay for Orchestra began with a flare and roll on the drums, and almost sub-audible, breathy notes from the brass. A high bassoon gave the first hint of melody, before percussion in the form of pizzicato strings and drum kit took the lead.

The alternation between percussive and melodic sound continued as the clarinets and flutes picket up a two-note motif, but gave way shortly to the violinists tapping and rapping on their soundboards.

The motif, an A-C interval, soon returned to be tossed lithely around the sections of the Wallingford Symphony, and developed grandly by them.

As Essay for Orchestra wound down, Walker introduced a short Hebrides melody and the style became redolent of 1930's Gershwin, sounding surprisingly like portions of Porgy and Bess. The theme, in verted now and carried by the horns, gradually softened, until once again, the percussion and breathy brass were all there was to be heard.

In both concept and realization, Essay for Orchestra proved to be a very modern, very American piece of music.

Ventre and the Wallingford Symphony, in giving Walker's work its first onstage interpretation, played proudly and with sincerity, making this premiere a grand and well-received succes.