RED BANK,NJ. Despite the advent of rain, music lovers attended the final concert of the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra’s 62nd anniversary season with conductor Roy Gussman Sunday, May 15, 2011 at the Count Basie theatre. The program was too good to miss. Much of the music was familiar–music that has withstood the test of time.

The program included The Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg, Hungarian Rhapsody by David Popper, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, Xylophonia by Joseph Green with Guest Artist Greg Biannascoli, marimbist.

Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 Edvard Grieg 1875 Originally written by Henrik Ibsen as a fantasy poem about a lazy, self-centered young man, (a satire of 19th century life) Ibsen adapted it as a play. Grieg’s first suite: “Morning Mood” “Aase’s Death”

(Peer’s mother), “Anitra’s Dance” (melodic, toe-tapping rhythm by violins and cellos) and “In the Hall of the Mountain King” a majestic march.

Intended to capture the different moods, it has been very popular over the years.


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Hungarian Rhapsody David Popper 1891

Born in Prague, cellist David Popper made his solo debut in Vienna in 1867, was appointed principal cellist of the Vienna Court Opera. Among the pieces he wrote to highlight the unique characteristics of the cello was the Hungarian Rhapsody. In Sunday’s performance the solo cello was changed to the marimba.

Rhapsody in Blue         George Gershwin 1924

Born in Brooklyn of immigrant parents, Gershwin is recognized as an important early American composer. He left school at 15 to be a pianist with a Tin Pan Alley group. “Swanee” was a national hit in 1919. He scored numerous Broadway musicals with lyrics by brother Ira. Paul Whiteman, a known orchestra leader, asked Gershwin to write a “jazz symphony” for a concert on February 12, 1924. George himself was the original piano soloist. Rhapsody in Blue sold a million copies around the world. This performance was the world premiere of a new arrangement using solo marimba instead of piano. Rhapsody in Blue is still a popular favorite.

  1. Xylophonia                   Joseph Green 1925

Percussionist Joe Green won fame touring with John Philip Sousa’s band as a featured xylophone soloist 1915-1919. With his brothers they created the sound tracks to the first Disney cartoons.

Romanian Rhapsody in A Major, Op. 11 No. 1 1901 George Enescu A child prodigy he wrote his first musical composition at five, entered the Vienna Conservatory at seven and graduated with the silver medal at twelve.

Wrote many compositions but Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 written when he was 20 has lasted.

The Rhapsody begins with solo clarinet softly playing a gypsy song, then a series of Romanian folk songs and dances; the music builds to a climax.

Valentino Dances                 Dominick Argento 1997

Dominick Argento is a living American composer, born in Pennsylvania in 1927. He is best known for his fourteen operas. His song cycle from the Diary of Virginia Woolf earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975.

Valentino Dances is an orchestral suite from his 1994 opera The Dream of Valentino, about movie star Rudolph Valentino. The suite features accordion and alto saxophone playing the tango which Valentino danced in an early silent movie. Robert McMahan played the accordion at this performance.

Guest Artist Greg Biannascoli, Marimbist

Winner of the 2001 Artist International New York Recital/Young Artist Competition, recipient of numerous grants and awards, he performs 50 marimba recitals annually in US and Canada and has been soloist with orchestras throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Greg is a faculty member at Juilliard Pre-College and percussion coordinator at New Jersey City University. He’s taught at the Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music.

As his arms flew, creating trills, playing Flight of the BumbleBee and softly whistling, one could only marvel at his mastery of his instrument.

The program ended with the audience giving the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra a standing ovation.

A fitting ending for a thrilling afternoon. 

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...