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West Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Spring Concert Featured Renowned Cellist

The West Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Spring Classical Concert on March 29 will feature Melissa Morgan.

Melissa Morgan. Submitted photo

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Renowned cellist Melissa Morgan of Avon will perform Victor Herbert’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor at the Spring Classical Concert of the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra at 3 p.m., Sunday, March 29. The concert will be held in the Roberts Theater on the campus of Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford.

Morgan, who grew up in Avon, is the assistant principal cello of the Waterbury Symphony, teaches in the Community Division of the Hartt School of Music and at the Hotchkiss School.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music and her master’s degree in performance from the San Francisco Conservatory. She is a member and co-founder of the Kara Quartet and the “On the Hill” dinner and chamber music concert series.

West Hartford Symphony Music Director and Conductor Richard Chiarappa described the Herbert cello concerto as both challenging and beautiful. “The opening theme is very powerful and strong, with some tricky rhythms for both the soloist and orchestra,” he said, “The second movement, by contrast, is lyrical and peaceful.”

Chiarappa said he was intrigued by the piece, which he first heard a few years ago, and he knew that Morgan, who has taught several cellists in the West Hartford Symphony, would be the perfect soloist to perform it. 

“Melissa listened to it and agreed to learn it for us,” he said. “I’ve grown to love it more and more as I work on learning it. The second movement is simply gorgeous.”

Morgan said she has been drawn to the piece because of both its beauty and its challenges. “It’s powerful and commanding with a beautiful second movement that reminds me of a romantic Parisian Cafe,” she said. “It is a relatively short work for a concerto, with all the movements being played attacca. The first and third movements share many of the same thematic materials.

“I think the biggest challenge is also the most rewarding part of learning it,” she said. “Because it’s not necessarily a household name concerto, I did not start learning it with a preconceived idea about how it would go, which really allows me to interpret it in my own unique way.”

Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor is one of Herbert’s two works that have entered the standard orchestral repertoire. An American composer, cellist and conductor, Herbert is best known for his many operettas of the 1890s and early 1900s, including “Babes in Toyland” and “Naughty Marietta.”

The first half of the concert will feature a performance of César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, the only symphony Franck ever wrote. This innovative work, which was highly innovative and controversial when it premiered in 1888, is credited with inspiring a younger generation of French composers and reinvigorating the French symphonic tradition after years of decline.

Chiarappa described the 40-minute work as “very melodic and powerful. It’s a piece that’s challenging but performable by a good community orchestra.

“A three-note motif and its variations permeate the symphony’s first movement,” he said, “and the second movement features a haunting solo by the English horn. The third movement begins joyously and blends elements of the two previous movements.”

Chiarappa has directed The West Hartford Symphony Orchestra, which currently comprises 63 volunteer musicians from West Hartford and the Greater Hartford area, since the orchestra’s founding in 2002.

Tickets for the March 29 concert are $20 for general seating and $15 for seniors and students and may be purchased at the door, or by visiting the orchestra’s website at whso.org, or by calling 860-521-4362.

Kingswood Oxford School is located at 170 Kingswood Road in  West Hartford. Parking for the March 29 concert is available in the school parking lot on Trout Brook Drive. (For GPS Navigation, use 832 Trout Brook Drive). Handicapped parking and access from the parking lot are provided, with additional handicapped parking at the Outlook Avenue entrance to the school.

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