The Winston-Salem Symphony‘s “Kicked Back Classics” series is an attempt to break down the purported walls between entertainment and culture, classical music in this instance. Judging by the nearly full main floor of the Stevens Center, the series is quite successful! (The balcony was locked, to the chagrin of those seeking the even better acoustics of the upper level.)

Maestro Robert Moody successfully led the Winston-Salem Symphony through a well-executed performance of three masterpieces of Russian origin, works by Rimski-Korsakoff, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. The soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto was the outstanding young American pianist, Andrew Von Oeyen, who dazzled the Saturday night audience with his strength and accuracy.

One of five works for piano and orchestra by the virtuoso pianist and composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, the Third Piano Concerto is perhaps less popular than the Second Concerto or the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but is nonetheless dazzling in its virtuoso writing. Composed by a pianist with large hands, it demands and found in Von Oeyen a large-handed soloist with the incredible stamina to play the 40-minute piece which gives the pianist almost no rest at all. Von Oeyen is a force to be reckoned with – his power dominated the orchestra at all times – but the dominance was tasteful and technically impeccable – no wrong notes that I heard, although there were some dovetail orchestra entrances that were less than close. The audience gave the soloist a well-deserved (if short) standing ovation.

Petrushka is the second of three ballet scores Igor Stravinsky composed in short order in the early 20th century, between the eye-opening Firebird and the scandalous Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring). The half-hour score is difficult for almost every instrument and certainly a challenge to conduct as well as to play. WSS and Moody mastered this score and gave a terrific performance which featured many dazzling solos as well as impeccably tight ensemble work. The whole ballet involves a love triangle between three puppets at the fairgrounds on the night of Mardi Gras. At the end of the evening, the puppet master hangs up his puppets in the booth for the night, unaware that the tragedy of Petrushka’s unrequited love for the Ballerina has been cut short by the Moor by killing him. But in the end, the ghost of Petrushka rises above the stage in the original score, unfortunately omitted in the “concert ending.”

Anita Cirba on cornet (according the score), Kathryn Levy on flute, Carol Bernstorf on bassoon, and Nancy Johnston on piano were superb in their long solos as were all the various other soloists, too numerous to mention.

The concert opened with the long and somewhat repetitious Russian Easter Overture, Opus 36, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who had been one of young Stravinsky’s teachers. Combining the modal hymns of the Russian Orthodox Easter service with dramatic and brilliantly colorful orchestration was a gift peculiar to Rimski-Korsakov. A long solo by second trombonist (what was on the composer’s mind to feature the second, not the first trombone?) was well executed by David Wulfeck and long virtuosic solos on flute (Kathryn Levy) and violin (Corine Brouwer, concertmaster) added color to the long harmonic progressions of the slower parts of the overture.

An added feature of the “Kicked-Back Classics” series is the overhead projections which bring another dimension to the concert. Unfortunately, some of the sound was unsynchronized with the picture and in the case of Stravinsky, the film strips were overly long. Personally, I found that the details projected during the performance divided my attention rather than reinforcing it. However, the audience appeared to enjoy the added information. Moody was relaxed to the point of sitting on the rail behind the podium and occasionally kicking up his right heel like an NFL quarterback! Kicked Back, indeed!

The concert repeated Sunday afternoon, January 10,  and  will repeat again onTuesday, January 12 at 8 pm, but without projections. See our sidebar for details.