Each year, Jan and Beattie Wood sponsor a concerto competition at the Brevard Music Center. This year, six winners received cash prizes, free tuition for 2009, and an opportunity to perform with the BMC Orchestra. Daniel Meyer, Music Director of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and Resident Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted this year's winners' concert.
Leading off was 14-year-old violinist Brandon Garbot of Portland, Oregon. This eighth-grader has already soloed with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, so his appearance performing the Allegro of the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto was not his first time in the limelight. Unerring in his intonation, he displayed nerves of steel. His performance with the orchestra sounded exactly like his performance with piano accompaniment in the competition.
This predictability was not true of some of the other performers. I became very aware of the hazards of being young. Unseasoned performers are like adolescents; there is no way of predicting which day they will be emotionally up or down.
Youngji Kim is a flutist from South Korea who has pursued graduate diplomas and degrees at two American universities. She played Ernest Ansermet's orchestration of Frank Martin's beautiful "Ballade," for flute and piano. Her technical proficiency did not abandon her, but in the first half of the performance with orchestra, I was missing the heart that I had seen during the competition. To my pleasure, during the latter part of the work she again became emotionally driven and more convincing.
Christy LaBarca is from State College, Pennsylvania, and now lives in Massachusetts. The first chords of Richard Strauss' Concerto No. 1 for French Horn and Orchestra announced "I am here," and with confidence and a honeyed tone, she tossed off the first movement of the delightful work. Nothing had changed since the competition except there were a lot more people on stage and a lot more people in the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium.
Andrew Goldman, of San Diego, a student at the University of Southern California, performed the finger-busting Prokofiev Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra. With an orchestra at his back, Goldman lost the insouciance that had charmed me during the competition. But late in the work, with the glissandi and the ensuing passage that seems to demand more than 88 keys, he finally expressed the sheer joy that I had enjoyed so much during the competition.
Susie Chung, of Los Angeles, a graduate student, also at the University of Southern California, performed the first movement (Andante sostenuto) of Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22. A slender young woman with a big sound, she played the work with a lot of rubato and quite beautifully.
Pianist Natasa Stojanovska 21, of Macedonia, now attends Lynn University Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton. During the competition, I had not sensed her full power and grace. Now, with an entire orchestra to bounce passages off, she came into her own in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Frequently lowering her face toward the keyboard, she was nevertheless always conscious of the orchestra. Her articulation, and the fine detail of slurs and breaks, indicated a mature affinity to this music. In the cadenza, there were wistful notes at the end of explosive passages.
Meyer deserves credit for the unobtrusive accompaniments, particularly for the three pianists all taking liberties with the tempi of their highly emotional concerti. The latent power of the orchestra was held in check during quiet piano passages by Goldman. Chung's frequent rubatos were matched. Stojanovska emoted in her passages, and Meyer mirrored her emotions in the ensuing orchestral passages. Altogether, it was a very good job by conductor and orchestra.