Preface: Bill Lynch, the Arts and Entertainment writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, created a "Just Press Play" series for the paper, in which he asked different people from the community to share a sample music playlist. This was my submission in January 2016.
I adore classical music. Sitting in an orchestral hall and being enveloped by the sounds of an orchestra will never cease to inspire me. Luckily, my work with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra is to make classical music accessible and get people to come to concerts. A lot of people don’t think that classical music is for them, and I want to change that.
Arturo Márquez, Danzon No. 2 (1994)
This piece makes me want to dance … which is rare because I don’t like to dance. It begins with the clarinet, sweetly and soulfully singing the main melody, which is then taken up by the oboe. They duet over the clavés, which gives the piece its Latin heartbeat, and a piano solo transitions the nostalgic mood to a mix of other emotions. Full of fiery passion, syncopation, and percussive rhythms, it’s sure to get stuck in your head.
Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique (1830)
This one is a completely twisted love story, with each movement portraying an episode in the life of a love-struck artist who overdoses on opium and becomes haunted by the vision of this perfect, unattainable woman. Throughout each of the movements, the “idée fixe” (recurring melody) weaves in and out of the music and is a representation of the woman he is longing for.
The story for the symphony was ironically close to reality for Berlioz, as he composed this piece in an extravagant attempt to gain the attention and affection of Harriet Smithson, an Irish actress, who did not even attend the premiere. Berlioz and Harriet eventually did marry, but his obsession with her fizzled out and they divorced years later.
The question that remains is whether or not Berlioz was under the influence of opium himself while composing Symphonie Fantastique, but conductor Leonard Bernstein said it best: “Berlioz tells it like it is. Now, there was an honest man. You take a trip, and you wind up screaming at your own funeral.”
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Cue #allthefeels. I like to think of Rachmaninoff as the Adele of classical music. You’ll go through a whirlwind of complex, layered emotions full of intensity and passion beautifully. I first heard Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor performed by the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra in 2007 as a junior in high school and about two minutes in, I was crying like a baby. That’s the piece that made me fall in love with classical music. Other personal favorites are: Piano Concerto No. 2, Prelude in C# minor, and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Don’t forget to grab tissues.
Time for Three
Time for Three is a classical-crossover group that’s coming to perform with the WVSO on April 16th at the Clay Center and I couldn’t be more excited! The group consists of three classically trained musicians who create their own arrangements of everything from bluegrass and folk tunes to ingenious mash-ups of hits by the Beatles, Kanye West, Katy Perry, and Justin Timberlake, just to name a few. Ever heard The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Eleanor Rigby or Blackbird with a full orchestra? Me neither.
So my last pick isn’t classical, but they rock AND they’re local. Qiet’s new album, “Composition #9,” won’t be released until the launch party on February 27 at the Clay Center, but I luckily got a sneak peek. Their versatility is incredible; each track feels like a slight shift in genre, but they’ve still managed to maintain the distinct sound that is Qiet. From gypsy-ish jazz and Cajun influenced to rock and even a little bit of funk, their unique blend of some powerhouse vocals, guitar, violin/viola, trumpet, trombone, and drums will get your feet moving. I tried to pick a favorite track to highlight, but I can’t — they’re all so good.
Shiva Shafii, a Charleston native, is the Guest Artist and Marketing Manager for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. A classically trained violinist, she maintains a private violin studio and frequently coaches young musicians with the West Virginia Youth Symphony. When she’s not doing anything music related, you can find her freelancing as a makeup artist.