There are concerts by three full-sized orchestras every week of the Eastern Music Festival. Saturday nights find the Dana Auditorium stage filled with professional musicians, drawn from across North America, who teach the talented students. The stage is taken on Thursday and Friday nights by two different full-sized orchestras composed of the students under the name "Young Artists Orchestra." Both orchestras are pretty evenly matched in talent, and there is some migration of personnel between them. (When CVNC began covering the festival in 2001, the Thursday orchestra was called the Eastern Symphony and the Friday one was called the Guilford Symphony.)
A number of mostly well-behaved children were on hand for the much-beloved opening work, Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67, by Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953). The story's spoken narration is seamlessly integrated with musical evocation of its characters and actions. There was plenty of enthusiasm as well as skill in evidence among the musicians as first chair players or sections took on the story's roles! WGHP Fox TV's co-anchor Neil McNeill struck just the right tone in the role of the avuncular story teller, delivering his lines on time and in a straightforward manner, never cloying in style. The able conductor was Eric Garcia, festival music director Gerard Schwarz's assistant. (With no insert in the program or announcement from the stage, the "mystery" conductor was the subject of much intermission speculation!") His conducting was clear and restrained, and his choices of dynamics and phrasing were excellent. The string sections, especially the violins, were superb in evoking the bravado and wanderings of Peter. The perky, restless Bird was brought to life vividly by flutist Chaz Salazar. The droll and reckless Duck was limned by oboist McKenzie Allen. Clarinetist Amalie Wyrick-Flax delineated the wily Cat, ever alert for an easy meal of a careless bird. The stern Grandfather was personified by bassoonist Ryan Finefrock, who produced a rich tone with plenty of bottom. Three horns, played by Sally Podrebarac, Matt Lemmel, and Molly Flanagan, brought out all the ominous qualities of the Wolf.
The four Sea Interludes, from the opera Peter Grimes, by Benjamin Britten (1913-76), rival Debussy's La Mer in their vivid depiction of the changing faces of the sea and the fishermen's village so dependent upon it. "Dawn" evokes the slow rise of the sea breeze. Distant bells and an unsettling undertone in "Sunday Morning" suggest the stirrings of the dour villagers. "Moonlight" is Britten's masterful sonic painting of a still harbor on a moonlit night. The composer unleashed every element of the orchestra in the mighty "Passacaglia," as vivid a portrait of a storm as ever penned. Conductor José-Luis Novo led his talented charges in a brilliant performance with refined dynamics, a wide palette of orchestral colors, and close attention to tight ensemble.
How many standard repertoire symphonies started as a student "graduation project"? Such was the case for Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10 by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75). He was eighteen years old when he composed it for his graduation piece from Leningrad Conservatory and nineteen when conductor Nicolai Malko led the premiere on May 12, 1926! The work finds the composer feeling his oats and pulling out all the stops, before life under the heavy heel of Stalinism led him to write works with hidden meanings and to keep a packed suitcase handy in case he was to be hauled off to the gulag or worse. The orchestration of the first movement is by turns jaunty and grotesque while the second movement is a perky scherzo. The slow movement is full of melancholy lyricism with an ominous undertone before all the brass and percussion are unleashed in the finale. The opening muted solo trumpet was delivered with just the right tone of effrontery and sass by Samuel Wells. The many extended violin solos throughout all four movements were delivered with fine style and security by concertmistress Dorisiya Yosifova. Other prominent solos were well played by bassoonist Christopher Smith, cellist Hsin-Fu Lui, clarinetist Richard Dobeck*, and flutist Ashley Cho.* No one made a louder or a more precisely focused impression than timpanist Adam Cosgrove in the shattering kettledrum solo near the end of the finale! Hearty bravos to all!
*Edited/corrected 7/25/10, 7/26/10, & 8/2/10.