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It is gratifying to hear so many successful former students of the North Carolina School of the Arts return to give master classes and recitals in the splendid Watson Chamber Music Hall. Such was the case when William Barnewitz, currently principal horn of both the Milwakee Symphony and the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, gave an imaginative program that displayed his artistry as a soloist and an ensemble player. This concert served to introduce a significant new endowed program designed to promote chamber music.
Barnewitz's stage comments continued observations from his master class. He said players should choose music they like since during all their time in an orchestra, their music will have been selected by others. The program opened and ended with Barnewitz's transcriptions of vocal music for horn and piano. Bach's "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein" was composed for bass-baritone. Pianist Eric Larsen, with the piano's lid in its highest position, provided a crystalline ground to Barnewitz's seamless spinning out of the melody. His warm brass tone was produced with superbly gauged dynamic control with lovely little trills and sensitive use of color.
Composer Richard Strauss' father Franz was a virtuoso horn player, called the "Joachim of the horn" by Hans von Bülow, and was much feared by less accomplished conductors. The high technical demands and abundance of musical quotations in Richard Strauss' Andante for Horn and Piano, Op. posth., suggest the extent of his father's facility. The son composed the piece for his parents' 25th wedding anniversary and left it as an unpublished work solely for his family's use. Barnewitz played with a full and rich tone and showed remarkable breath control. His melodic line was unbroken and he made the maximum expressive use of dynamics, ending the piece with a carefully modulated fade into silence.
Barnewitz said that Francis Poulenc's "Elegie," for horn and piano, had been his entrance piece some 28 years ago. At the time, he did not know how difficult the work is. The work was composed in December, 1957, to honor the memory of British horn player Dennis Brain, who had been killed in an auto accident earlier that year. A fierce and abruptly interrupted motor rhythm alternates with an impassioned dark lament. This piece displayed Barnewitz's masterfully clear articulation of fast passages and tricky chords. His intonation, as he hit high notes squarely, was exemplary. It is an understatement to call this work fiendishly difficult.
The music department of the NCSA has long wanted to establish an endowed program for chamber music. The Stern Scholar String Quartet was established this year in memory of Isaac Stern through the generous support of his widow Linda Stern. Led by the Isaac Stern Scholarship First Violinist, membership in the quartet is an honor primarily reserved for graduate students. Undergraduate students of exceptional promise may occasionally be included.
The "old and new" were joined in a piquant performance of Beethoven's Sextet in E flat, Op. 81b, for two horns and string quartet. Barnewitz beamed as he took the second chair to his teacher of 28 years ago, Frederick Bergstone. While Bergstone has since retired from teaching, he is still the skilled first horn of the Winston-Salem Symphony. First violinist Elisa Friedrich led graduate students Geronimo Oyenard, violin, and Dorothea Vit, cello. Rounding out the ensemble was violist Laura Manko, a sophomore who is already playing in the Winston-Salem Symphony. The horns and strings, perfectly balanced, were played with admirable classical style. Barnewitz matched and blended beautifully with Bergstone's horn playing. The pungent stopped notes and robust horn playing of the last movement were rousing. There was all the joy of musicians, playing for their own pleasure, being overheard by the audience. I look forward to hearing the quartet in the standard repertory.
The Berceuse for horn and piano by Jean-Michel Dmase (b.1928) showcased Barnewitz's ability to weave a pastoral mood above an interesting piano part.
Barnewitz said that his transcription of Brahms' "Wiegenlied" ("Lullaby") marked his transition from "jackass to parent" and is dedicated to his twin daughters, Molly and Kate.
Barnewitz has made a number of recordings and has performed on over 200 motion picture sound tracks and numerous TV spots. Sadly, his biography states that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2001. All the proceeds from his latest CD, Long Road Home, on Avie, will fund Parkinson's disease research and education.