Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus closed its 2018-19 concert season Sunday with a tribute to American masters of music.
The March 24 concert, in the Omak Performing Arts Center, treated audience members to a sampling of the great American songbook, from John Denver to Frankie Valli and from Aaron Copland to John Philip Sousa.
Capping the performance was “Simple Gifts,” a traditional Shaker hymn that featured the combined orchestra and chorus, with Oroville and Okanogan high school students supplementing the chorus. Copland used it in his “Appalachian Spring” ballet.
The tune is familiar, with everyone from Jewel to Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss recording covers, and the local groups delivered a beautiful rendition that was worthy of the standing ovation the audience gave at its conclusion.
Before the concert, the Second Strings group, led by Roz Nau, entertained concert-goers as they filtered into the lobby. The group is an educational outreach of the orchestra-chorus.
The chorus, under the direction of Jonathan McBride, kicked off the concert with “John Denver, A Legacy in Song.” The medley featured some of the late singer-songwriter’s best-known hits, including “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” “Annie’s Song,” “Fly Away” and “Rocky Mountain High.”
Many in the audience sang or hummed along quietly.
“Sure on This Shining Night,” by Samuel Barber, was more subdued, but featured a beautiful, soaring soprano line.
The audience got to tap its toes again for “Begin the Beguine,” a late 1930s standard by Cole Porter, and a “Jersey Boys” medley featuring the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
“Irving Berlin, A Choral Portrait,” was another medley piece showing Berlin’s musical mastery, from “White Christmas” to “God Bless America” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
The chorus performed admirably, even if some of the entrances and cutoffs were a bit muddy.
After intermission, orchestra conductor Matt Brown paid tribute to longtime violinist Flora Long, who was presented a bouquet of flowers in recognition of 25-plus years of playing with the group.
A chorale served as warm-up for the orchestra before the fireworks began with Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The flute section - listed in the program as Noni Alley, Marcy Stamper, Abby Sheffield and Nancy Zosel - and John Oelund on piccolo got a workout with the obbligato.
It’s one of my favorites, and the group did not disappoint in its presentation.
“Hoe-Down,” from Copland’s “Rodeo,” followed. Many people know the music from the “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” ad campaign in the 1990s, but the music runs far deeper than a catchy tune as background for sizzling steaks. Program notes indicated Copland’s aim was to produce an American-flavored type of classical music.
The music, though it premiered in 1942, is one of those familiar pieces that evokes down-home, solid values. The Okanogan Valley Orchestra did it proud.
“West Side Story, Selections for Orchestra,” by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein and arranged by Jack Mason, wrapped up the orchestra portion of the concert.
Brown introduced the piece by saying it’s timeless and very relevant, as the musical explores tolerance.
I found the percussion to be a bit heavy-handed in quiet places throughout the concert, including the otherwise soft “Maria.” In other places, loud percussion was welcome, as demonstrated with the booming bass drum and crashing cymbal in “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
In “West Side Story,” the orchestra showed great energy and a sense of anticipation in “Something’s Coming,” and the brass section was beautiful and smooth on “Tonight.”
Then came the aforementioned finale, with Brown conducting both instrumentalists and singers. McBride took a spot with the chorus.
At the concert’s conclusion, Brown thanked the audience for its support during the season, and urged parents and grandparents to support youngsters in their musical endeavors.
“We can carry (music) for the rest of our lives,” he said.
Next up for Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus is the spring musical, “A Christmas Story,” which runs May 3-5 and May 10-12.
Dee Camp is a reporter for The Chronicle. Email her at email@example.com.