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An apt program for the moods of post 9/11 America was chosen by retiring Greensboro Symphony Orchestra Music Director Stuart Malina for his penultimate series of concerts. He directed performances on September 12 and 14 in Greensboro's War Memorial Auditorium and a third round in Elon University's McCrary Theatre on September 15. He followed the concert with his traditional "Meet the Artists," his brief informal question and answer sessions with interested audience members after the September 12 concert.
Over the years, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings has been worn out as the most often performed music played to commemorate a death. In recent years in the Triangle and in the immediate wake of 9/11, Elgar's "Nimrod" from the Enigma Variations has taken its place. With its relative absence, a splendid unsentimental concert such as that led by Malina is always welcome. Despite the summer's hiatus, the orchestra's strings exhibited extraordinary unanimous ensemble. Musical lines were clearly delineated. It was a delight to follow the melody as it moved from section to section. Violas and cellos produced a good rich sound. Malina carefully judged the build up to the climax. At his post concert exchange, he apologized for forgetting to ask the audience to withhold applause, an oversight he will correct in the remaining performances.
All praises given to the strings in the Barber held true for the challenging "Death and Transfiguration" by Richard Strauss that followed. Woodwinds and brass also rose to the musical gauntlet. Malina chose an ideal quiet dynamic for the opening, which too often starts too loud, limiting later options. Expiring heartbeats were suggested by " pp " timpani beats and the seven double basses. The latter were unusually well played, as much felt as heard. The strings again produced a fine sheen. There were numerous different woodwind solos, notably extended ones by the oboe. Concertmaster John Fadial brought a sweet tone to his solos. Uneven hall acoustics sometimes clouded the string parts that countered vigorous brass in the fast section and occasionally seemed to suppress the full sound of the woodwinds.
Perhaps reflecting the "original instruments" movement, Malina ended the concert with a brisk paced interpretation of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, in E-Flat ("Eroica"). The violins maintained their close unison and the violas and cellos produced a good rich sound. Dynamics were well chosen. The first movement was blazing in intensity. Horns were on their best behavior. Malina's tempo for the Funeral March was satisfying and unexaggerated. Principal oboist Cara Fish had fine solos in the slow movement as well as in the first. The Scherzo was fleet. The horns were more confident in the repeat than in their initial playing of the Trio. Phrasing in the Finale showed many careful nuances. Counter currents in the orchestra texture were very clear, and the acceleration at the end brought an exciting finish.
The house seemed short of the pre 9/11 attendance. That event combined with the economy has afflicted most concerts in both the Triad and the Triangle. Questions were wide ranging at Malina's after-concert session with the audience. He mentioned that all five candidates for his position will have such meetings on both performance nights and that their interaction with the public would be a factor in the selection process. Responding to a comment about his prestissimo, at the end of the Beethoven, he said that he had taken it even faster than they had rehearsed it. He was proud of how well the orchestra had followed him. To a query about his big project with Twyla Tharp on the new musical Movin' Out , based on the music of Billy Joel, he said that the Chicago run had ended with mixed reviews. They had tweaked it and it would soon open on Broadway. He will retain his directorship of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania. CVNC covered both of his official opera conducting debuts, Massenet's Manon with the Piedmont Opera and Rossini's Barber with the Greensboro Opera. He said that further opera ventures were part of his career planning. He answered questions about how the number of players for a piece is determined as well as the variations in concert pitch between America and Europe.
Malina's last concerts will be played May 8 and 10 in Greensboro's War Memorial Auditorium and on May 11 in McCrary Theatre at Elon University. In the intervening months, five guest conductors will appear in Greensboro this season: Markland Thakar, Thomas Wilkins, Shinik Hahn, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, and Keri-Lynn Wilson. For the dates and the programs, see our series tab.
The opening night concert was broadcast live by Wake Forest Public Radio 88.5 WFDD. Malina gave an intermission interview. All Thursday Masterworks series concerts will be broadcast and streamed live by WFDD (at http://www.wfdd.org/).