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Tonu Kalam led the UNC Symphony Orchestra (mostly students, plus a few grads, faculty members, and friends) in a concerto competition concert with two stunning concert pieces on Tuesday evening, February 28, in Hill Hall. At the outset, it must be said that this is a gratifying musical group to hear that provides pleasure to those in attendance.
The program opened with "Postscript to the Symphony" (2004) by Roger Hannay, whose death in January ended a brilliant and dedicated career. The piece is subtitled "Meditation on Symphony No 10." It does not further develop themes from Hannay's 10th Symphony but rather, as its subtitle specifies, is a meditation, a reflection on the previous work. Neither is there anything lost in the appreciation of this piece if you have not heard the previous one. It alternates between quiet reflective moments, building at times to intense walls of sound, only to fall back on the quiet and calm wonder of acceptance with which it ends – fading off into infinity. Kalam suggested that there be no applause but that we allow the music to lead us into a reflection of the life of this significant musician and the many contributions he made to our lives. It was fitting and appropriate.
The first concerto competition winner to perform was violinist Matthew Kiefer, a senior Bachelor of Music candidate and also a recipient of an A.J. Fletcher Music Scholarship. He intends to pursue violin performance in graduate school. He chose to play the first movement of Brahms' Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77, which was premiered on New Year's Day 1879. From our perspective over a hundred years later, it seems shocking to realize that it received mostly negative reviews and that a violinist of the stature of Pablo de Sarasate refused to play it, claiming that the only beautiful melody in the piece was in the oboe part! Kiefer was superb in his realization of Brahms' rhapsodic and lyrical beauty. This reviewer was totally rapt and heard or saw nothing else. At the end, after Kiefer's stunning cadenza and the orchestra's warm support during the last statement of one of Brahms' most beautiful melodies, a chill at the back of my neck nearly brought tears to my eyes.
Giuseppe Tartini, a brilliant violinist of the baroque era, wrote many concerti, the most popular of which today is performed as a trumpet concerto, since Maurice André had it arranged for his performances in the 1950s and 60s. Tartini's Trumpet Concerto in D major (arranged for the piccolo trumpet by Ivan Jevtic) was the choice of concerto competition winner David Suchoff. His performance was a delight, characterized primarily by a bright, crisp tone, exceptional musical technique, and a confident command of baroque style. Suchoff is a junior Bachelor of Music candidate with a minor in Chemistry who is following the pre-med track. His future plans include medical school and practicing medicine in Chapel Hill. We certainly hope he keeps his chops tight, but that is just our selfish wish.
Megan Seiler was the soloist in Dvorák's Romance in F minor, Op. 11, for violin and orchestra. She melted our hearts with her warm and fluid style, perfectly matched to Dvorák's romantic lyricism. The melody for the Romance in F minor was derived from the andante movement of his String Quartet in the same key and reflects some of Dvorák's longing and struggles in his early career. Seiler is a senior Bachelor of Music candidate from Durham, New Hampshire. At the age of 14, she won first place in the concerto division of the New Hampshire Youth Solo Competition. She hopes to attend graduate school in the near future and to pursue a career in music performance and education.
The program closed with almost every instrumentalist in hailing distance on stage for a rousing – and I do mean ROUSING – performance of the Overture to Rienzi by Richard Wagner. The full title of Wagner's first successful – six-hours long – opera is Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes. It is loaded with Roman pomp, heroism, tragedy, romance, idealism, and brass. Interestingly, it has never been performed at the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth because it is not considered a "Music Drama " in the same class as Wagner's middle and late works. Nevertheless, the overture continues to be a popular concert piece because it contains some of his most beautiful melodies, some sprightly dances, and the most triumphant march theme imaginable. The UNC Symphony Orchestra with Kalam at the helm sailed this concert into its home berth with joyous gusts galore. This is a fine band of musicians with a fine leader.
Note: The teacher of the two string soloists is UNC's Richard Luby, and Suchoff studies with James Ketch.