Paul’s Pick: The tuba gets its due in Williams’ concerto

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Velvet Brown is the featured tuba soloist for Greenville Symphony Orchestra's “Virtuosity Unleashed." Photo provided.

Paul’s Pick of the Week: “Virtuosity Unleashed,” a Greenville Symphony Orchestra program featuring tuba soloist Velvet Brown.

Why you should go: The tuba is often the Rodney Dangerfield of the orchestra. It gets no respect, no respect at all. The low-voiced brass instrument rarely enjoys the spotlight, most often playing a supporting role in any piece.

But not this time! The tuba is front and center in John Williams’ Tuba Concerto, to be performed by the Greenville Symphony this weekend.

Celebrated tuba player Velvet Brown takes on the virtuosic solo part.

“She performs this concerto all around the world and we’re very happy to have her as our soloist,” said Edvard Tchivzhel, the Greenville Symphony’s music director who’ll occupy the podium.

Williams, of course, is probably America’s favorite film composer, known for scoring “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and dozens of other films.

In his Tuba Concerto (1985), Williams fully explores the instrument’s capacity for mellow lyricism and challenges the soloist’s ability to negotiate quicksilver passages.

Overall, it’s an energetic, exuberant work that makes you wonder why other composers haven’t written more concertos for the tuba.

Also on the program: William Walton’s “Crown Imperial March” and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony.

“We have three great works by great 20th century composers,” Tchivzhel said.

A royal march: Walton’s “Crown Imperial March,” evoking the grandeur of Britain’s past, has been a popular piece for ceremonial occasions. First performed at the coronation of George VI in 1937, the work also was heard as a part of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011.

“It’s a noble march that reflects the pride of the British,” Tchivzhel said. “It’s a beautiful piece of music, very uplifting.”

‘Virtuosity Unleashed’: The program’s title, “Virtuosity Unleashed,” doesn’t refer only to Williams’ Tuba Concerto, Tchivzhel said.

Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony makes virtuosic demands on the entire orchestra, he said.

Prokofiev composed the intense work in 1944 against the backdrop of the devastation of World War II, but as the tide was turning in favor of the Allies.

“It’s written very much in the spirit of victory,” Tchivzhel said.

Paul Hyde, a longtime Upstate journalist, writes regularly about the arts for the Greenville Journal. He’ll present a free pre-concert talk one hour before each Greenville Symphony performance this weekend. Follow Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

If you go

  • What: Greenville Symphony Orchestra: “Virtuosity Unleashed,” featured tuba soloist Velvet Brown
  • When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday (The Journal’s Paul Hyde presents a free pre-concert talk one hour before each performance)
  • Where: Peace Center
  • Tickets: $19 to $65
  • Info: www.peacecenter.org or 864-467-3000
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