The Winston-Salem Symphony’s 61st season opened on Saturday night with a concert entitled “Fanfare,” which Maestro Robert Moody promised "to end with a 'BANG'!" Indeed, a number of "bangs" nearly blew away the large and enthusiastic audience in the closing "1812 Overture" by Tchaikovsky, thanks to the high-tech cannons and church bells. As usual, the orchestra was at its best in the loud passages. Ironically, although so dear to casual concert-goers, the "1812" was actually one of Tchaikovsky’s least favorite compositions!
The concert opened with a work commissioned for the Symphony, "Phoenix for Orchestra," by native North Carolinian Dan Locklair, Composer-in–Residence at Wake Forest University. This is the first composition commissioned by the Symphony from Locklair but the fourth of his works to receive its world premiere by the Winston-Salem orchestra. "Phoenix for Orchestra" is more a processional than a fanfare, although it starts with antiphonal fanfares of a modal character, featuring trumpets and trombones from the balcony of the Stevens Center and responses from the horn section on stage. Eventually the entire orchestra including an organ (Dr. Locklair’s own instrument) participates in this powerful piece, leading to an almost overwhelming climax with penetrating chimes.
The witty Maestro Moody then demonstrated, with the help of composer Locklair and with much humor, the various versions of the works that led to this commission ("Phoenix for Orchestra" is the fourth iteration of a work originally written in 1979).
The soloist in this season-opener* is the excellent cellist, Zuill Bailey. Sporting the locks and looks of Captain Blood (Errol Flynn), this swashbuckling musician entertained the audience with two long and moving excerpts from the Elgar Cello Concerto. Elgar, himself, was quite a good cellist and wrote very idiomatically for the instrument. Bailey handles the technical challenges deftly and the romantic passages with warmth and feeling. In the balcony, the cello tone was soft but beautiful, and Maestro Moody was sensitive to the delicacy of the orchestral accompaniment; at no time did the orchestra overpower the soloist.
An encore for the Saturday night audience was an unannounced and unidentified theme and variations for cello and a few string players on the theme we know as “Yankee Doodle.” A virtuosic tour de force, this encore was droll and provoked smiles, laughter, and a standing ovation.
*Repeat performances are scheduled for Sunday afternoon, September 16, at 3:00 p.m., and Tuesday evening, September 18, at 7:30 p.m. The program will include the entire Elgar Concerto and will begin with Carl Maria von Weber’s "Jubilee" Overture. This reviewer will add a segment (“On Second Hearing”) to this review after the Tuesday night performance.