Music lovers in Dana Auditorium did not need to make any allowances for music performances by the Eastern Music Festival's all-student Festival Orchestra in an eclectic and challenging program. Composer Robert Ward was honored by a work he composed mostly while he was stationed on Okinawa during the last months of World War II. Guest conductor David Lockington skillfully accompanied his wife, violinist Dylana Jenson, in two French showpieces. He led his alert musicians in an astonishingly mature performance of Shostakovich's brooding Symphony No. 10.
Composer Robert Ward (b.1907) has held many significant artistic posts over his last forty years residency in NC, first as Chancellor of the NC School of the Arts (1967-75) and the Composer-in-Residence (1975-80), with remaining years at Duke University. His robust "Jubilation" Overture (1945) reflects the optimism that followed the defeat of Nazi Germany and not, as the composer commented, "the combat conditions in which he was living." The opening is very loud, but the scoring quickly becomes much more interesting with skillful and imaginative treatment of the string sections contrasted to or paired with brass. The students played with excellent section ensemble as Lockington carefully controlled balance and dynamics.
Older classical music collectors will remember the digital RCA LP incarnation of Dylana Jenson's first recording, Sibelius' Violin Concerto, coupled with Saint-Saëns' Opus 28 with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. This was issued shortly after Jenson had become the first American woman and, at age 17, the youngest person ever to win the Silver Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Amazon.com still lists used copies of the Victrola budget CD reissue, which is overdue for revival. Lack of management and marketing support seem to have kept her from having as extensive an international career as seemed imminent at her debut. Jenson's web site [inactive 9/09] has a link to a fascinating 1998 interview covering the ups and downs of her career. Triangle music lovers may remember her guest appearance with the NC Symphony during the Zimmermann era.
Ravel's "Tzigane, Concert Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra," and Saint-Saëns "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," Op. 28, found no weaknesses in Jenson's armory of virtuoso technique with spot-on intonation at any speed and during complex multiple stops. She produced a fine, warm tone that was readily projected into the hall. She gave the Ravel piece all the faux-Hungarian vibrato it could bear. The interpretation of Saint-Saëns' work was articulate, with crisp, clear musical lines. Lockington's accompaniment was ideally balanced with gorgeous refined quiet playing from the orchestra.
The performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93, was nothing less than astounding. The composer began the work four months after the death of Joseph Stalin, whose hard-line communist regimentation lasted from the 1930's until his death in 1953. Shostakovich had run dangerously afoul of the dictator's "socialist realism" creative mold several times, most famously over his opera Lady Macbeth of Minsk. Most of Shostakovich's works can be viewed as having multiple layers of meaning. The Tenth Symphony conveys the composer's reaction to the dictator. The parodistic second movement is a portrait of the wily and brutal Stalin. The somber waltz-like third movement is an early example of Shostakovich having used the German transliteration of the musical pitches to yield DSCH as his motto, and the finale makes frequent references to this before the ironic Allegro is tacked onto this otherwise wrenching record of oppression.
The symphony opens with a long slow movement some twenty minutes long. Playing with slow, sustained tempos is very challenging to inexperienced players, and Lockington's musicians passed this gauntlet with flying colors. The string sections dug in and produced an incredibly deep, rich sound. Individual sections played in lock step as one player. Intense and heavy rapid bowing produced Shostakovich's characteristic steely sound. Lockington's comprehensive over-all concept and management of the symphony held the piece together brilliantly. There were numerous outstanding solos from his principal players. The brass sections were heroic, especially the horns led by the stentorian sound of Mario Lopez. Among the strong woodwind players were clarinetist Timothy De Wolf, bassoonist Laura Miller, and flutist Diondre McKinney, along with the prominent piccolo of Nick DiCillo. Timpanist Joshua Hooten's authoritative bass line underpinned much of the symphony. Concertmaster Francisco Jimenez strongly characterized his solos. This would have been a successful achievement for a professional orchestra; that it was the work of advanced students was nothing short of amazing. Bravo!