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The skies changed from partly cloudy to overcast, a cool wind swept away some of the mugginess, and a few raindrops fell, but the Durham Symphony‘s audience escaped largely unscathed, and the orchestra was never in any real jeopardy since the musicians were under a shelter. As a result, the orchestra’s second outdoor pops concert in the Bull City – a third was presented in Hillsborough – came off exactly as scheduled, and that’s a very good thing, for this season the ensemble is seeking a new music director, and Wayne Wyman, the conductor, was the last of the auditioning finalists. He’s a lively person, on and off the podium, and he has a particularly strong sense of the importance of melodic lines, perhaps due to his not inconsiderable operatic experience. The program was an attractive one, nicely presented, even more nicely amplified (the electronic support was never intrusive!), and amusingly introduced by Wyman from the podium. There were four little suites, several shorter pieces, and a substantial Tchaikovsky score – and not the ubiquitous “1812” Overture – for the finale. The program was called “Heroes, Dreamers, & Lovers,” and for the most part, the title fit the bill.
As our colleague Ken Hoover reported several weeks ago at the rained-out first performance of this program, things got underway with an arrangement of four tunes from the James Bond (007) flicks. Since these are very decent themes, presented in great sound in the films themselves, they are always fun to revisit, and the orchestra played them quite nicely. Five excerpts from Mitch Lee’s score for Man of La Mancha were next; this is one of the finer musicals, and its better known numbers are so widely admired as to have become veritable standards.
Bizet’s Carmen Suite was next, and presumably this fit the “lovers” category, although the stage work ends badly for the erstwhile couple. Here the sound was truly splendid, the low strings biting in with enthusiasm and the orchestra projecting a good deal of dark drama. Wyman then complained about the heat, undid his tie, slipped off his coat, and – voila! – the superman t-shirt revealed the next tune – yep, it was the theme from that movie, one of John Williams’ many blockbusters.
A four-part suite of Sinatra tunes – “Salute to Ol’ Blue Eyes” – ended much too soon. The numbers included some of the master’s greatest hits, and grand and glorious songs they are. Then there was a bit of semi-classical ephemera – the too-rarely heard “Two hearts in three-quarter time” by Robert Stolz, played with an admirable sense of style and a bit of swagger.
The program ended with a thoroughly commendable reading of the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy of Tchaikovky, splendidly introduced – Wyman’s brief account of what’s going on in the piece was the most concise I’ve yet heard. Here and elsewhere, too, the orchestra sounded very, very good – the winds made many fine contributions, the horns were mostly on form, and the strings added the requisite richness, a quality not always present at outdoor concerts. The R&J Overture-Fantasy is one of the composer’s most riveting scores, and it made a fine cap for a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a quarter in Durham’s Piney Woods Park. It was also very warmly received, but since it is too long for use as an encore, there was a repeat of the short Stolz number before the crowd went on its happy way.
The DSO expects to announce its choice as music director sometime the week of May 4. Again, the candidates are Andrew McAfee, William Henry Curry, Fouad Fakhouri, Harry Davidson, and Wayne Wyman – a most commendable slate. Stay tuned!