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'Symphony Idol' semifinal showcases local talent

By David Williams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Symphony's second "Symphony Idol" competition had a great deal of variety in music, 16 songs from eight semi-finalists, covering genres from opera to Broadway, jazz to pop, with even a bit of rock.

The operatic number came from Amy Hypes from Summersville, who sang Mozart's "Dove Sono" from "The Marriage of Figaro." She had a lovely, weighty tone with clean diction. She opened the concert with "If I Loved You" from "Carousel," showing a sweet way with American popular song.

Charleston's Brynna Horswell sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miserables" with great spirit and timbre to voice. I was less taken with her "Don't Rain on My Parade," which closed the concert. Here, she seemed more flinty.

Charleston's Joshua Butcher marshaled energy and emotion in a vibrant "Make Them Hear You" from "Ragtime" and the rousing "Into the Fire" from "The Scarlet Pimpernel." The former featured some superior playing by the orchestra's brass section, while the latter had a  pretty opening solo by Marsha Palmer, the orchestra's first hornist.

Daniel King, an 18-year-old from Nitro, showed a vocal strength beyond his age in "This is the Moment" from "Jekyll and Hyde." His singing of "On the Street Where You Live" from "My Fair Lady" was lighter, if a bit mannered.

A rather opaque arrangement of Noel Coward's "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" left Fayetteville-born Courtney Stanley little maneuvering room for her voice and leaving me with no real impression of it. Her other tune, Duke Ellington's jazz standard, "A Prelude to a Kiss," changed that. She sang the loose-limbed melody nimbly, gliding on Ellington's slipping, chromatic harmonies and showing a masterful sense of phrasing. David Porter, the orchestra's first trumpeter, added some understated support.

Pop music came from Charleston-born Mira Stanley (she was a music student of mine at Mountaineer Montessori in the 1990's) in an effortless bluesy "Sunday Kind of Love." She was precise on the pitches but floating in between them. Her take on Carole King's "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" had no sense of strain.

St. Albans' Billy King (more disclosure here: he is one of my daughter Katherine's best friends and I have played tennis and Scrabble with him for years) soared through some recent pop, Adele's "Chasing Pavements" and Pink's "Glitter in the Air." Both had great arrangements, tuba with acoustic guitar in the Adele, and a walking piano bass line with bits of strings and English horn along with big brass in the Pink. King sang some impressive high passages and with fervor.

Charleston's Christopher Conrad supplied the rock music. He sounded every bit the rock singer in Collective Soul's "The World I Know" and U2's "With or Without You."

The orchestra's Friday night concert at the Clay Center just began the process of deciding a winner. The audience's votes from Friday will be added to those from the Saturday concert's first half to choose four finalists that will compete for the title in the second half.

That audience's votes will decide the winner.

The concert is Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center.


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