So far, the Greensboro Symphony's search for a new Music Director has been a very close horse race with all exhibiting many desirable abilities across the board and no clear weaknesses. The January 11 concert had been preceded by emails from friends strongly hinting that the third candidate, Shinik Hahm, might pull out ahead, and many participants in pre-concert conversations indicated that the word on the street was the same. His biography lists a plethora of current podiums: since June 2001, M.D. of the Daejon Philharmonic Orchestra (Korea); M.D. of the Tuscaloosa Symphony (Alabama); M.D. of the Abilene Philharmonic (since 1993); M.D. of the Yale Symphony Orchestra (since 1995); and Permanent Guest Conductor of the KBS Symphony Orchestra (Seoul, Korea). During the informative "Meet the Artists" session, after the concert, the conductor said the GSO had given him five rehearsals, each two-and-a-half hours; four are the norm. Based on the results, he used every second to artistic advantage, achieving an extraordinary level of control over interpretation, phrasing and section execution that many established music directors would envy.
A brassy fanfare opened a Suite of four dances from Léo Delibes' ballet Sylvia. Very refined use of dynamics and excellent string phrasing were immediately apparent in the first dance, "Les chasseuresses." The fine horn solo had a slight vibrato appropriate to a French work. The string sections, already having played at a high level all season, did so with unexpected delicacy. The horns brought off the Orion theme beautifully, readily evoking the atmosphere of the hunt. The "Intermezzo et Escarpolette," portraying Sylvia and her nymphs frolicking, had splendid and expressive solos by oboist Cara Fish, flutist Debra Reuter-Privetta, clarinetist Kelly Burke and Principal Cellist Beth Vanderborgh. Warner cartoons make it impossible to hear the well-known "Pizzicati" without envisioning a pas de deux with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd! The "Cortége de Bacchus" brought the Suite to a rousing and festive finish.
A rare conjunction between the N.C. Symphony and Greensboro Symphony Orchestra's programming allowed some listeners the chance to hear both horn concertos by Richard Strauss within a 24-hour span. A CVNC colleague covered virtuoso Eric Ruske's performance of the more operatic Second Concerto by the then-78-year old composer in Chapel Hill. Greensboro heard the more classical First Concerto penned when Strauss was only eighteen. The First was composed for his father, a great virtuoso, while the Second warmly recalls his father and those early years from the devastation of WWII. The brilliant horn soloist in Greensboro was Durham native Stefan Jezierski, who began his professional career as an Assistant Principal Horn with the GSO some thirty years ago when he was 17 and a student at the N.C. School of the Arts. In 1978 he was selected by Herbert von Karajan to play high horn with the Berlin Philharmonic, a post he still holds. Jezierski's control of all aspects of his difficult instrument was spectacular, not least in his ability to play softly while maintaining a seamless singing line. After multiple recalls to the stage, more singing qualities were showcased in his performance of Rachmaninov's "Vocalise," arranged for him by a Japanese conductor. Hahm and the GSO provided an ideal accompaniment.
The concert ended with a staggeringly successful interpretation of Dmitri Shostakovich's magnificent Symphony No. 5, Op. 47. All orchestra solos were brilliant and inspired. Hahm conducted without a score and with total involvement, energizing the orchestra to play beyond themselves and securing his own full rich sound from them. This performance may have surpassed the near mythic one Lawrence Leighton Smith got from the N.C. Symphony during his brief halcyon period as musical advisor. Many in the audience gradually noticed a familiar bald pate in the horn section. The guest soloist Jerierski quietly slipped into the middle of the section, partly for old time's sake, partly because of love of the piece and partly out of curiosity about conductor Hahm, he revealed after the concert. The loud and prolonged standing ovation at the conclusion was fully justified.
Compared to the usual attendance at Thursday concerts, the Saturday concert was a very full house. A large Korean-American contingent was on hand and the honored guest was U.S. Representative Howard Coble. Local media coverage of the GSO season by Fox 8 has been enviable, but it was disconcerting to have a Fox TV personality present the guest conductor's biography, included in the printed program, from the stage, much as one would put across a local car dealership. Maybe I'm too snobbish, but is this the ideal way to market classical music?