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Rush to get a remaining ticket for what ought to be remembered as THE concert of the season!
Dana Auditorium, on the lovely campus of Guilford College, was packed with a near sellout audience for the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra's "Pinchas Zukerman Gala" concert. The internationally famous violinist was the lead attraction on a program that included Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky in the dual roles of soloist and conductor. Three of the evening's selections showcased gorgeous scoring for both string soloists as well for the orchestra. The main course duo concerto after intermission also featured cellist Amanda Forsyth.
The concert's appetizer was the atmospheric "The Hebrides" (overture), Op. 26 ("Fingal's Cave") by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47). The 21 year old composer was inspired by his visit to Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa, located in the Hebrides archipelago off the coast of Scotland. Sitkovetsky directed a beautifully judged interpretation, applying a refined palette of dynamics that built slowly toward the work's powerful climax. His seating of the string sections, with first violins on stage right and second violins on stage left, contributed to the clarity of line. There was a subtle impact from the brass and woodwinds, including a fine clarinet solo from Kelly Burke. All the string sections delivered fine, unified playing with some rich participation from the cellos and violas evoking the rocking of waves.
It would have been worth the price of admission alone just to have heard and seen the joyful music making in J.S. Bach's Concerto No. 2 in D minor for Two Violins, Strings, and Continuo, S. 1043. Sitkovetsky took up his Strad to play first violin and he was joined by Zukerman on second violin. The juxtaposition and blending between the brighter first violin part and the darker second violin part was a constant delight. The lively give-and-take between Sitkovetsky and Zukerman in the two outer movements was engaging. The seraphic slow second movement with its reduced orchestral strings highlighted the splendid tones of the soloists as they interwove their parts above the subtle lute stop of harpsichordist Nancy Johnston.
Forsyth, wearing a striking fuchsia gown, took the stage with violinist Zukerman for the Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 102 by Johannes Brahms (1833-97). This is one of my favorite concertos, and I always regretted wistfully that Brahms did not go on to compose a "great" cello concerto. This marvelous work will more than "make do" and indeed the cello often takes the lead from its rhapsodic cadenza-like passage in which it replies to the robust opening phrase of the orchestra. The two instruments are very much equal partners in this passionate Romantic concerto. Both Zukerman and Forsyth played with immaculate intonation and rich string tones. The magnificent slow movement seemed a seamless melancholy duet in which time was suspended as the listener was swept along. There was a splendid chamber music give-and-take between the husband and wife duo throughout. Sitkovetsky provided excellent orchestral accompaniment that fit like a glove. It was a performance which will long linger in the memories of music lovers.