The Brevard Sinfonia, Brevard Music Center's crack Collegiate Division orchestra, and featured violin soloist Stephan Waarts performed a magnificent program of works in Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium which transported and delighted its audience. Under the direction of conductor Christoph König, the performance consisted of Respighi's Belfagor Overture, Korngold's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35, and Shostakovich's lesser-known Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54. The orchestral presence was massive throughout the concert, and its technical demands on each of the orchestral players were unrelenting. Most impressive to this listener was the fine characterization of this music's various moods and styles which were adroitly elicited by this conductor who, though generous with his cues and gestures, did not overstep his presence on stage.
Clearly the stage was full of rising stars. König is Principal Conductor and Music Director of the Solistes Européens, Luxembourg, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Real Filharmonía de Galicia. This year's engagements include debuts at the Aspen Music Festival and with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh. Eighteen-year-old violin soloist Waarts is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and currently studies with Aaron Rosand at the Curtis Institute where he holds the Frank S. Bayley Annual Fellowship. He is an international prize winner (most recently, First Prize at the 2014 Menuhin Competition), a featured artist both here and abroad, and incidentally, also has garnered national recognition in the field of mathematics. Along with them were orchestral players in every section whose concentrated and disciplined playing (some of it frightfully exposed in drastic texture reductions) was deeply impressive.
The Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium's stage was expanded this year out and over the old orchestra pit to project the sound better into the audience. This was my first opportunity to hear the results. Not only is the sound much brighter, but the gap between players and audience has literally been bridged. In addition, a huge ceiling fan kept the air moving nicely in the hall. More improvements are slated for next season, including the building of an acoustical shell onstage to aid the musicians in hearing one another.
The program opened with the concert overture from Respighi's opera Belfagor, a work that premiered in 1923 and had few performances. In salvaging its musical highpoints, Respighi created a whimsical, though rather lengthy, orchestral work of dramatic twists and turns. The performance was remarkably cohesive for such an "event-filled" overture, and bathed us in the warmth of Respighi's writing for strings.
Following this, Waarts joined the orchestra to perform the Korngold concerto. Waarts is a statuesque and very slender young man who holds his violin in a unique manner, very high and pulled a bit to the front of his body. He had a quiet stage demeanor, and while his face was a study in concentration, he never appeared to be nervous or taxed by the music he played. The first two movements of this concerto were studies in lyricism, featuring lengthy stretches of rather simple, melodic phrases which he fleshed out into shimmering moments of sheer beauty. There were also technical demands of fast "fiddling and scurrying" in a brief cadenza and throughout the final movement which he tossed off with ease and a smile. Thus completely captivating the audience and after repeated curtain calls, he played a brief encore, the introspective second movement from Eugene Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 4 for solo violin, to thunderous applause.
The stand-alone work after intermission was the Shostakovich symphony, its massive sounds generated by a veritable army of players: two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, three clarinets, E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet, three bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, triangle, tambourine, drum, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, xylophone, celesta, harp, and strings. From the opening sounds of the huge first movement, the mood was ominous and unsettling, declaimed by these massed orchestral voices. While this was the predominant texture – full blown – there were ample opportunities for solos and duets throughout this and the other two movements, moments that were startlingly exposed when all the other players dropped away. This was another test of this good orchestra – to have players in each section that could manage each of these passages with fluidity, musicality, and sheer nerve. The finale Presto required lightning reflexes to execute its rhythmic map, and flexibility to accommodate its mood swings, resulting in an ominous, yet mordantly cheerful romp (not unlike circus music with a sardonic twist), bringing the audience to its feet in a rousing ovation.