Three stylistic periods were explored in the July 15 Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra concert, given in Dana Auditorium. It opened with a late Romantic work, the guest soloist was then featured in a masterpiece from the late Soviet era, and a bread-and–butter repertory piece ended the program triumphantly. Guest conductor Stefan Sanderling is currently Music Director of the Florida Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Triangle audiences will remember him as a candidate for the music directorship of the N.C. Symphony. While his acceptance of the Florida position took him out of the pool of candidates, he has since made an impressive guest appearance leading Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony in Raleigh. Guest cellist Xavier Phillips studied with both Paul Tortelier and Mstislav Rostropovich.
Any stage diffidence on the part of Sanderling disappeared as he gave the downbeat for a confident and expertly balanced performance of the Prelude to Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger. He secured a full, rich string sound with the woodwinds and brass being carefully integrated. The three C-major themes associated with the Mastersingers (including the Mastersinger melody used as the basis of the march) were clearly drawn and set against the themes of Eva and Walther von Stolzing. The conclusion, with all four themes treated contrapuntally, came off brilliantly.
The guest artist had multiple connections to Shostakovich and to his First Cello Concerto, in E-flat, Op. 107. Phillips studied with Rostropovich, for whom it was written. Sanderling's family members, conductors Kurt and Thomas Sanderling, had extensive connections with the composer, too, including advice about tempos and interpretation. Playing a magnificent Matteo Gofriller's cello dated 1710, Phillips produced a dark and rich tone and hit high notes and harmonics precisely. According to Steven Ledbetter's program notes, Shostakovich admired Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 107, and owes a great deal to it as a model. The first movement is dominated by a four-note motif, announced immediately by the cello accompanied by the woodwinds. The clarinet and horn take up the theme prominently. A heartfelt A minor string melody permeates the second movement. Violas, cellos, and double basses have extensive roles. A magnificent extensive cadenza for cello alone makes up the third movement, leading directly into the fast final movement, in which the opening motif is combined with the finale's theme. Phillips gave a searing performance of breath-taking skill. Sanderling's accompaniment fit like a glove. Clarinetist Shannon Scott and Principal Horn Leslie Norton gave memorable solos.
Sanderling ended the concert with a musically satisfying interpretation of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. A few slight flubs aside, the Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra played with fire and passion. Sanderling's tempos were gratifying; he chose a happy medium that allowed the music room to breathe and register with the listener. He phrased the main themes and melodies on the solid framework of the lower strings – violas, along with the cellos and double basses. The section balances were excellent, and the brass was brought out vividly in the finale. Sanderling ought to be on our state's major orchestras' short list of repeat guests.