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Friday, Mar 24, 2023

Inaugural recital celebrates Joan Stockstill Godsey Concert Series

It has been a strenuous past few months for the realm of classical music. Just an hour and fifteen minutes up the road, the Atlanta Symphony makes headlines with its unfortunate inability to find harmony between artists and management. This contention has warranted a grueling struggle and has threatened to shut the orchestra down, should mutual conditions not be met.

Although the paradigm of classical music has been suffering a waning shift, certain anomalies come forward to inspire us of the enduring disposition that the medium still retains. On Friday night, Fickling Hall in the Townsend School of Music was bestowed one of these tokens, as  concert pianist Orion Weiss graced the stage with one of the most impressive feats of artistic capability to manifest itself in Macon. Weiss is a mere 34-year-old prodigy, having only graduated from the Juilliard School in 2004. He made his substantial debut as a teenager in 1999, performing the Liszt “Piano Concerto” with the Cleveland Orchestra. Since then, Weiss has performed with every major orchestra in America, from Symphony Hall with the Boston Symphony to Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The recital given by Weiss was the inaugural concert of the Joan Stockstill Godsey Concert Series, a new series of keyboard related concerts in honor of the esteemed patron Joan Godsey. Godsey, wife of R. Kirby Godsey, has lived a long life serving selflessly to enhance the under-privileged communities of middle Georgia. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Godsey volunteered as a music teacher in schools where no one was able to educate. She has been rigorously involved in homeless relief efforts here in Macon for decades, adding just one more humanitarian action to her long resume of charitable feats. She continues her aspirations at Mercer, where she and her husband spearheaded the effort to outfit the Townsend School of Music with a collection of brand new Steinway Pianos. This endeavor seeks to satisfy the long standing ambition to make Townsend an All-Steinway School. Due to the immense achievement that this contribution has made, it seems only fitting that the new keyboard-centered concert series should be named in honor of Joan Godsey.

Following a beautiful ceremony recognizing Godsey’s distinction, Weiss took the stage to demonstrate just how critical her efforts truly are. The first half of the program was filled by Enrique Granados’ “Goyescas,” a dense and descriptive work which was later adapted into an opera. It soon became clear why the work inspired a stage of singers and dancers engaged in some dramatic affair. The piece introduced brilliant themes that seemed to casually characterize images of Spain: a love scene by the river, a peculiar nightingale which visits sporadically and a ballet of young dancers engaged in a spectacle of joy and tenderness. All of this beauty was enveloped in a mass of dense texture and virtuosic demonstration. The complexity of the hour-long score was so immense that it becomes a true wonder that the human brain could possibly hold facility for such a conquest. Weiss, however, defied all logic and expectation as he effortlessly traversed the piano, summoning the full capacity of the instrument to speak his genius. Weiss resembled Glenn Gould as he sang along with every melody, performing the entire masterpiece from memory. It became instantly clear that this story was his to tell, and the voice that we were hearing was the complex and passionate voice of a dedicated artist.

The second half was embodied by Claude Debussy’s “La boîte à joujoux” (“The Toybox”), a musical score set to scenes of a children’s story. Weiss accompanied a slideshow of illustrations and text that characterized the humorous and playful tale. The feature was incredibly entertaining to all ages and all levels of musical intrigue alike. Performed beautifully and flawlessly, Orion Weiss demonstrated that classical music need not embody the stereotype of stuffiness and exclusivity that keeps the medium from maintaining any commercial success. This spectrum of music holds so much life, so much complexity and emotion. The general public needs only to witness the craft for what it can be and to incorporate something meaningful and inspiring. Concerts such as the recital given by Weiss do just that through their ability to sustain an art form of the past and to bring it to the stage with an enriched sense of youth, vibrancy and applicability. As I scanned the hall, I saw smiles, tears and glowing faces in every child, adult and Mercer student. The world of classical music may be facing a difficult path, but it is clear that the path can be paved through an optimistic and devoted transformation, one that seeks to revive our love for classical music.


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