The best of Brevard Music Center’s student instrumentalists play in the BMC Orchestra composed of one-third faculty and two-thirds students. The students experience rehearsals and performances under the guidance of top-notch orchestral conductors such as Music Director Keith Lockhart and Principal Guest Conductor JoAnn Falletta. Add to that list Matthias Bamert, who conducted a memorable concert on Friday night in the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium.
A Beethoven symphony was on the second half of a program that otherwise focused on the “birthday boy,” Franz Liszt. The 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth is this year, and there is a lot to appreciate about this towering figure of the Romantic era. Not the least of his contributions was his generous support of and counsel for aspiring musicians. He taught hundreds of younger artists, so it is appropriate that a summer teaching festival such as BMC should celebrate him.
The opening work was the most familiar and perhaps the best of Liszt’s orchestral poems, “Les préludes (d’après Lamartine).” The orchestra under Maestro Bamert performed the work in a slightly understated manner, and the result was a serious but not pompous presentation of all the emotion that Liszt had built into the score. I was reminded of a remark about Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony made to me by Jerzy Semkow. He said that the error some conductors make is to milk passages for their emotion. Tchaikovsky put all the emotion into the music as written, he said, and all a conductor should do is present it, as written, to the public. It speaks for itself. The BMC Orchestra’s string players produced Liszt’s lush string sonorities, but never overreached. Special notice should be given to the woodwinds, who executed Liszt’s filigrees most ably.
Bruce Murray, Artistic Administrator and Dean of the Brevard Music Center, joined the orchestra to perform Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in A. This work is deceptively simple in concept, with just one theme and with more collaboration than usual between the soloist and the ensemble. Murray approached the work the way he would a piece of chamber music, with many evidences of attempting to meld his sound directly with other instruments and not just collaborate with the conductor.
David Premo of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Carnegie Mellon University is in his second summer of teaching at BMC. He has acquitted himself well in his role as Principal Cellist of the BMC Orchestra. On this occasion, he shone in solo passages in which thematic material reflects back and forth between cello and piano.
After intermission, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A was presented. Conducting without a score, Maestro Bamert used purposeful choreography in his motion on the podium, a great deal of eye contact with the players and absolutely no empty gestures. If I were to call his interpretation conventional, you might think I was calling it prosaic; it was not. Instead, let me call Bamert’s approach a summary of the received wisdom of two hundred years of experience by great conductors of the past, internalized and formed into a consistent and convincing approach. Where there was counterpoint, the entries were distinct but not overemphasized. Where there were woodwind idylls, the delicacy and beauty were presented but not unduly stretched. The final Allegro con brio was taken at a tempo that reminded me of Toscanini’s breakneck approach, but somehow sounded unrushed. It was a model of Beethoven interpretation.
Faculty and students alike were smiling on stage at the conclusion of the Beethoven, as well they might. They had nailed it.