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I don't usually attend concerts by concerto competition winners at local universities because I don't care to hear programs of excerpts, but since UNCG is a conservatory, the performance level of the orchestra is higher than elsewhere, and this diminished my regret about the format. The May 6 concert in Aycock Auditorium was nothing if not diverse. Robert Gutter conducted all but one work, providing close accompaniment of the soloists and securing first-rate results from the student orchestra players.
Luc Jackman, a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate with broad experience in Canada, played the final rondo movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto flawlessly. He projected a beautiful, warm tone, agilely articulated and with thrilling trills, his breath control was marvelous, and he maintained a singing line. I would love to hear him take on the whole concerto.
Masters candidate Chenny Gan brought a fleet élan to the last two movements of Saint-Saëns' Second Piano Concerto, in G Minor. Alas, the most interesting portion - the first movement with its massive opening solo cadenza - was omitted. This was rather like tossing the beer and keeping the head on top. Still, Gan gave a fine demonstration of keyboard virtuosity.
Doctoral candidate Arthur White brought an astounding virtuosity to "Out of Cool," for saxophone and orchestra, by Dave Heath (b.1965). The fascinating score was by turns bluesy and jazzy. He played a soprano saxophone in B-flat, and his extended cadenzas had an incredible range of volume and were very much in the spirit of jazz improvisation. The reed family does not, of course, include horns, but one portion reminded me of the horn technique used to create chords. It also seemed that White was almost singing into the mouthpiece, and there were some curious overtones, too. This score deserves more frequent exposure. White's biography is impressive: he has shared the stage with Ray Charles and Mercedes Ellington, among others, and I can't resist lifting this quote from the program: "Recent performances with Fred Wesley and Chris Murrell, both formerly of the Count Basie Orchestra, were highlights. Murrell referred to Mr. White's performance as 'greasy, stinky, and just how the music should be played.'"
Vivaldi's Concerto in C, for piccolo, strings and harpsichord, received a complete performance featuring DMA student Emily Orr's secure and fluent piccolo playing. Fine support was provided by the principal cellist and harpsichordist Laura Poe, while the tuttis had the sound of any fine chamber orchestra. Maybe UNCG could do an all-Vivaldi program sometime. It would be interesting to explore his Dresden Concertos.
Doctoral candidate Micah Everett brought a bel-canto singing line to his solo role in Lars-Erik Larrson's Concertino for Trombone and String Orchestra, Op. 45. The string score seems to aim at keeping all sections in the background, in deference to the soloist. Everett was a 2002 Raleigh Symphony Orchestra concerto competition winner.
It was worth the trip to see and hear that "rara avis," the contrabass clarinet, which was part of the large woodwind section of the unusual orchestra used for a Fandango, for solo trumpet, trombone, and orchestra, by Joseph Turrin (b.1947). The strings consisted of five cellos and two basses, and percussion and a full array of brass completed the set-up. Both soloists were impressive. Currently a junior, Justin Stamps demonstrated fine tone and sure control of his trumpet. Sean Devlin, trombone, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree, seemed to have no limitations to his virtuosity. The two brass instruments blended and contrasted delightfully. This is another score that ought to be heard more often.
Junior Rebecca Averill studies with Gutter and is pursuing a career in orchestral conducting. She brought some unusual touches to her performance of the first movement of Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B Minor. What a luxury it is to have eight double basses in a student orchestra! The ensemble gave her everything she asked for, including some delicate and detailed fast string figures. Kudos to the two young ladies who had such closely matched intonation in a horn figure that seemed to be held longer than usual.