The last concert of the second season of Sitkovetsky and Friends, presented on May 5 in the Recital Hall of the UNCG School of Music, began with GSO Executive Director Lisa Crawford presenting a plaque in appreciation of Rice Toyota's Garson L. Rice, who has underwritten the series this season. (In the first season, a trial-run organized by Music Director Dmitri Sitkovetsky, the orchestra musicians donated their services.) Rice announced that he would sponsor the 2006-7 season, and Sitkovetsky added that he had doubled the budget, allowing (for example) for thirteen musicians to play Mozart's Grand Partita. Every program of the 2005-6 schedule featured a work by Beethoven; Mozart will be the next focus.
Violinist Stefani Collins was joined by Bosnian-born pianist Pedja Muzijevic for a stirring performance of Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 in G, Op. 30/3. The piano's lid was fully raised and the pianist carefully gauged his choice of dynamics, never masking the violin's line. The give-and-take between the two was unusually even: when the piano had the lead part, it received its full due. Without ever forcing her tone, Collins more than held her own, playing with a warm sound and perfectly-focused intonation. She brought out the intensity of the first movement, phrasing with well-considered style. The middle movement was played with great élan. Not a note was missed in the whirlwind finale with its witty twists and turns. With numerous individual musical decisions made, there was nothing "student-like" about Collins' insightful interpretation. It is a joy to hear tomorrow's talents in the first blush of their artistic maturity.
During some thirty years of concert going, I have heard many fine performances of Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat, Op 44. Some few have been outstanding. Lucky is the music lover present on the occasion when a special reciprocal chemistry develops between players. Going beyond safe execution of the score, the music seems to be created in the moment as musicians soar on the intoxication of mutual feedback. This was the case in the performance by pianist Muzijevic, violinists Sitkovetsky and John Fadial (Concertmaster of the GSO), and GSO principal Scott Rawls, viola, and Beth Vanderborgh, cello. It was easy to hear why this quintet is a great favorite of violists, and it was a joy to hear how superbly Rawls spun out the melodies using an instrument outstanding for its voicing. The highpoint of the performance occurred as the second trio of the third movement scherzo began with what Melvin Berger in his Guide to Chamber Music calls, "its heavily accented perpetual motion." Sitkovetsky's barely-contained delight in playing chamber music is well known, but on this occasion everyone on stage was swept up as the musical reciprocity snowballed. While the Piedmont has several fine series that present top touring professional chamber ensembles, this GSO series has distinguished itself in the consistent attitude of collegiality and of the pure joy of music-making shared by the musicians and, not least, their Music Director. Guest artists have shared in this spirit.