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Well, it was a musical event, but there was attendant upon it a measure of high drama of quasi-Shakespearean proportions. The principal protagonist was Milton Rubén Laufer, whose eloquence in speech rivals that of his exemplary pianism. The setting was the Sarah Graham Kenan Recital Hall at Peace College, a handle that, thanks to its overblown Southern grandiosity, has for many years given us cultural journalists such pleasure to cite in full. The occasion was the last of the Manning Chamber Music Series concert of the current season. That the room wasn't jam-packed may perhaps be attributed to the fact that the program was devoted to music for piano and winds - surely a piano and strings program would have drawn a larger crowd.
But in many respects the chief attraction was that this was the farewell appearance in this venue of Professor Laufer as a Peace College person. He told us so on Facebook, and it was right there in the program, too: "This is Laufer's final performance on the Manning Concert Series." It's been a very good run, across a ten-year span, during which he and his Peace College colleagues and artists from the NC Symphony have enriched our community with some exceptional programs, all free (thanks in recent years to the generosity of Sara Jo Manning), and all capped by post-concert receptions. The hall is attractive and acoustically excellent. But all good things come to an end, and Laufer and the rest of the Peace Music Department are being shown the door at the end of the term, in a cost-saving move. Ouch. So as a result, when Laufer came out at 8 p.m. or so, he was greeted with a quite overwhelming round of applause that went on and on and on. When finally it subsided, he said, somewhat sheepishly, that he'd merely wanted to remind people about their cell phones…. The artists came on, and while they tuned for the first number, there were some remarks about Carl Reinecke (1824-1910).
Carl who? Ah, poor Reinecke. Famous in his own time, forgotten today. But his Trio in A Minor, Op. 188 (yes, he was quite prolific), for oboe, horn, and piano, is very attractive, even if it's somewhat lopsided (with a first movement that is almost if not quite as long as the other three combined). The cast is decidedly late Romantic, and the workmanship is of excellent quality. Melanie Wilsden and Rachel Niketopoulos seemed to have a wonderful time with the oboe and French horn parts, which intertwined and dovetailed and otherwise sported and frolicked like two young otters in a mountain stream. The piano part was handsomely integrated as well, and if Laufer didn't exactly resemble an otter, well, it's not because his hair wasn't elegantly coiffed.
After a fairly substantial intermission, when the players had assembled for part two of the program, Laufer stepped to the front of the stage to bid a truly gracious and heartwarming farewell to his artist-friends and to his audience. There are battles still to be fought, but this was a gesture that rose above the fray and all the unhappiness attendant upon the choices that, for better or worse, have been made by the administration at Peace. There followed immediately a truly compelling rendition of Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Winds, K.452, one of the two best-known and most-loved works in this form in the entire body of Western musical literature - the other being Beethoven's Op. 16 (which is of course modeled on Mozart's). There was a certain collegial comfort about the proceedings, which involved Laufer and Wilsden and Michael E. Cyzewski, clarinet, Christopher Caudill, horn, and Victor Benedict, bassoon. There were few blurred runs, drips, squeaks, or squawks. It was clean and polished and overall incisive. It was, in a word, good. And it was thus a good farewell for Laufer and his truly outstanding role as chief musical diplomat for Peace in this community. His work there, in the Sarah Graham Kenan Recital Hall, will be missed. Here's hoping he continues to enrich our lives with his art in other area venues.