“The Song Of The Lark, The Music Of The Trees, And The Melodies Of The Winter” The Peoria Symphony Orchestra’s “Nature’s Majesty” concert enraptured over 800 listeners with three superb pieces on Saturday, Nov. 22. Celebrating nature’s and mankind’s finest works, including songbirds, trees, violins, bassoons, and musicians, this sublime series of orisons featured stellar performances by concertmaster Marcia Henry Liebenow, Michael Dicker, and conductor George Stelluto’s philharmonic team. Virtues abounded in each of the triad—Englishman Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” American John Williams’ “Five Sacred Trees,” and Finn Jean Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major” But perhaps on this night, the best was saved for the first. Liebenow began “Lark” as softly as a songbird on a serene summer morning. Even as far back as our cheap ($28) seats in row X, the tremulous trills of her lilting violin shone above the remarkably restrained orchestra. Her highest notes hung as lightly as dawn’s first golden glow. Williams’ composed this in 1914, but due to the horrific interruption of the Great War, where he served as an ambulance orderly and an artillery officer, “The Lark Ascending” was not completed and performed until 1921 in London, when he was 48. He based on a 122-line George Meredith poem of the same title, six couplets of which both Williams and the PSO included in the program notes: He rises and begins to round, He drops the silver chain of sound Of many links without a break, In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake, ………….. For singing till his heaven fills, ’T is love of earth that he instils, And ever winging up and up, Our valley is his golden cup, And he the wine which overflows To lift us with him as he goes: Till lost on his aërial rings In light, and then the fancy sings. As the meadow awakens in melody, so does the orchestra join in the aubade, a cadenza choiring until the lark and the violin ascend into silence. Morning has broken. Violinist Liebenow wrote: “The Lark Ascending” is one of my favorite pieces. As a performer, I need to bring the written notes ‘off the page’ to the listener. To create images and various sounds with my violin is like a visual artist creating colors and textures on the canvas. I love creating colors and sounds, shaping the phrases of the music. The poem gives imagery that I strive to convey. It is challenging work, but very rewarding.” The songbird preceded the trees. John Williams, most famous for the soundtracks for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones film series, evokes another instance of movies made myth, the tales of J.R.R. Tolkien, in “Five Sacred Trees.” As teacher of Illinois Central College and Bradley University classes on Tolkien from 1974 until my retirement in 2008 and North American representative of The Tolkien Society since 1995, I found myself imagining Treebeard, Quickbeam, and the Entwives as Michael Dicker’s bassoon and the orchestra sprouted the melodies. Of these songs, Williams wrote: “As we become increasingly aware of the damage done by the destruction of our forests, it is illuminating to discover that our ancestors prayed to the spirits before felling a tree…[This has] moved me to compose this music featuring a bassoon, itself a tree.” The Celtic roots show in the four pieces played Nov. 22. “The Great Oak,” which guards the River Shannon, was inspired by the bassoon’s venerable ancestor, the Irish uillean pipe. The mysterious melody, briefly erupts orchestrally but returns to the fey opening theme. “Tortan,” the second tree-song, would be perfect on St. Patrick’s Day, the witches’ cat and the fiddle play a Gaelic air. The yew is “The Tree Of Ross” and the bassoon and the harp sing together in the most lyrical of the four tunes. Longest of the four played, “Dathi” ends as “The Lark” did: a subtle fading into stillness. The songbird finds her perch. The rest is silence. After intermission, the concert concluded with another work rooted in World War I and the subsequent terrors inflicted on Finland by the Russian Revolution, as the Communist partisan Reds battled the Whites favoring Finnish independence, Jean Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 5.” Amid all this chaos, he was misdiagnosed with throat cancer and lost 40 pounds during his grueling hospitalization and German bombardment. Revised thrice, the final version was not played until 1919 when the composer was nearly 55. “These symphonies of mine are more confessions of faith than are my other works,” he wrote. He found solace and inspiration in the forests and wildlife around his home outside Jarvenpaa. Although the work’s famous “swan theme” kept reminding this listener of The Murmaids one-hit wonder “Popsicles and Icicles,” which reached #3 on the Billboard charts on Dec. 7, 1963, it was wondrously wintry, fitting the weather outside on this night, which was also the fifty-first anniversary of Pres. John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In all, from the first trill of the lark’s violin in the summer meadow to the bassoon soughing in the Celtic trees to the Finnish winter, this evening at the Peoria Symphony was a natural-born delight. Stelluto and his 72 musicians deserved the standing ovations and bravos that they received.