Orchestral Music Review Print

Five Eastern Music Festival Concerto Competition Winners

July 30, 2004 - Greensboro, NC:

For the reviewer, joint concerts by the two student orchestras were easier to report when they were called the "Eastern" and "Guilford" symphonies. Both have been designated "Festival Orchestra" for the past several seasons. Though both are equally accomplished, distinct monikers would help clarify the differences. Each half of the July 30 concert was fielded by full orchestras made up of substantial portions of the 204-member student body minus the 22 piano students. Both student orchestras are 20% larger than the regional and municipal orchestras that I cover with the difference favoring the strings.

With close attention to detail, Scott Sandmeier conducted the opening half of the concert in movements from concertos by Prokofiev and Sibelius. Conor Hanick played the first movement of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, in C, Op. 26. A student of James Giles at the EMF, the Iowa City, Iowa, native is a third-year double-degree student at Northwestern University studying piano, English, and journalism. Hanick played with great bravura but no lack of poetry, displaying fingers of steel and crisp articulation. A superb clarinet solo opened the movement.

Elena Graf, a 16-year-old violinist from Freiburg, Germany, gave an astonishingly mature interpretation of the first movement of Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D Minor. She studies with Professor Hoffman at the Music College in Freiburg and has studied with violinist Julia Fischer, the Artist-in-Residence at the EMF for the last week of the festival. Her regular studies at the EMF were with Concertmaster Jeff Multer. Graf had a full, rich tone and precise intonation and was outstanding in all the exposed high notes.

After intermission, conductor José-Luis Novo led an entirely different student orchestra in three selections, eliciting well-played and stylish accompaniments and paying close attention to his soloists.

For the first time in the 43 years of the festival, a percussionist was a winner in the concerto competition. Ryan Kilgore, of Worthington, Ohio, has studied with She-e Wu and Matthew Strauss at Rutgers University and with Eric Schweikert at the EMF. Kilgore played "Energique et aggresif," from the two-movement Concerto for Vibraphone and String Orchestra (1999) by Emmanuel Séjourné. The set-up of the musicians was unusual: an arc of strings surrounded the vibraphone, with the first and second violins at either end, violas in the middle, and the cellos and double basses behind them. Plexiglas panels protected the close-in first violins from the full impact of forte passages. The scoring, which makes maximum use of divided strings, unusual harmonics, and cross rhythms, is fascinating. All of this is contrasted with all the varied timbres and dynamic possibilities of the vibraphone. The composer eschews the worst aspects of cloying vibrato, which makes the vibraphone, xylophone and marimba my least appreciated instruments. Kilgore played with great assurance and clear virtuosity. He will record the entire 18-minute concerto with the Rutgers University Orchestra this fall. More information about the composer can be found at http://www.emmanuelsejourne.com/ [inactive 10/04].

Clarinetist Todd Cope brought down the house with his superb playing of the last movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A, K.622. His tone was wonderful from the lowest to the highest range, and his intonation was perfect. The rising sophomore at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati has already accumulated an impressive array of awards. Currently a student of Richard Hawley, Principal Clarinet of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, he studied with Judy Donaldson at the EMF.

Nineteen-year-old Tatiana Vassilieva, formerly of St. Petersburg, Russia, played the last movement of Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. She produced a glowing and rich piano tone, expressively using a wide variety of timbres. She has won numerous prizes in Russia and the United States and is currently a rising junior at the Eastman School of Music, where she is a student of Fernando Laires and Nelita True. She studied with James Giles at the EMF.

At intermission, half- and full-scholarship awards were announced by James Giles. From the 22 member piano class, a full Steinway Scholarship went to Jason Wu, who was not listed in the printed program. Si Yi Fang from Guangzhou, China, and Robert Mitchell, from Arlington, Virginia, won half scholarships. Conductors Scott Sandmeier and José-Luis Novo announced the Festival Orchestra Awards. Full scholarships, the "Conductor's Awards," went to bassoonist Vanessa VanSickle (Delphi, Indiana) and double bassist Kelly Bliemeister (Brockport, New York). Half-scholarship awards were presented to clarinetist Todd Cope (Dallas, Texas), violinist Ryan Meehan (St. Petersburg, Florida), violist Miriam Oddie (Boulder, Colorado), double-bassist Joshua Tripp (Lakeland, Florida), and cellist Sarah Davis (Maitland, Florida). All the presenters stressed how difficult it had been to make the choices because of the extraordinarily high quality of this year's students. All of the student orchestra concerts that I reviewed confirmed their comments.

Note: There were apparently 19 NC students among this year's class of 204. They included violinists Jason Huang and Mario Yang (of Chapel Hill), violinist Sally Park (Raleigh), oboist Kelly Longmire (Durham), trombonist Robert Donnelly (Apex), percussionist Adam Rosen (Raleigh), and pianist Anthony Lee (Cary). Five student hailed from Charlotte - violinists Elizabeth Knox, Jared Matthews, and Jessica McJunkins, and cellists Jacqueline Kim and Matthew Darsey. The other NC students were violinists Benjamin Grube (Jamestown) and Taya Ricker (Asheville), bassists Joel Bostic (Greenville) and Jacob Boy (Jamestown), flutist Daniel Buscher (Shelby), bassoonist Zachary Morgan (Waxhaw), and trumpeter William Hobbs (Siler City).