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Any professional symphony orchestra in the state would have been proud to have delivered as fine a performance of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps as was heard April 17 in Winston-Salem's Stevens Center. Most of the well-filled stage was made up of talented student musicians of the N.C. School of the Arts Symphony Orchestra. Eleven members of the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle and four extra players from Greensboro and Winston-Salem helped to bring the numbers up to full strength (106 players).
Conductor Serge Zehnacker led an exact and straightforward interpretation that would have pleased the composer, who loathed maestros who added too much of themselves to his scores. All the complex cross-rhythms helped ratchet up the tension. Balances between the sections were excellent. All the musicians were at the edges of their seats, playing as if their lives depended upon it, with total commitment and remarkable virtuosity.
In a number of exposed parts of the score, where miscounted rests could have led to false entries, none was heard. Concertmistress Elizabeth Young played some keen high harmonics, and the violins produced splendid shimmering tremolos. Playing with their bells held high, the horns were striking. The percussionists were aptly relentless in their driving rhythms. All the woodwinds, especially the clarinet, bass clarinet, and bassoon were superb.
String pyrotechnics were on display in the concert's opening work, "Tzigane," by Maurice Ravel. The violin soloist was the NCSA's concerto competition winner, Teodora Dimitrova, a high school senior from Sofia, Bulgaria. Her "chops" are in fine shape, a tribute to her teachers in Bulgaria and, at the NCSA, Kevin Lawrence. She is a laureate of numerous competitions and an experienced soloist. This was evident in the assurance of her weighty opening attack. Since the rest of her exposed high notes were precise, perhaps it was a fleeting broader-than-usual vibrato that caused me to question her intonation on a slow held note at the beginning. Her broken chords were immaculate.
According to the Eastern Music Festival program book, the performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with Robert Dunand directing the Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra on July 25, 1981, which I attended, was the professional premiere of the work in North Carolina. Dunand had been a timpanist in L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande during the era of Stravinsky advocate Ernest Ansermet. That concert made quite an impact. The next performance here, in November 1981, with Acting Music Director Patrick Flynn directing the NC Symphony in a reduction by Robert Rudolph, was more like flat champagne. A few seasons later, conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann went back to the composer's original score when he led a much more dynamic performance with the NCS.