Thus far, the weather gods have been unkind to the NC Symphony's Summerfest series. Torrential rains flooded the new Regency Park venue before the grand opening concert, which was scrubbed - the festivities took place at the series' nominal second performance - and thunderstorms delayed and then curtailed the third concert, too. That June 16 program nonetheless allowed us our first opportunity to experience the new site, which - when it is finished - will represent a significant advance over Cary's long-running tent show.
There are many improvements. VIPs have a covered grandstand that allows for much better visibility - of the stage, for those patrons, and of the patrons themselves, for those who opt for lawn seating. The sound system is light years ahead of the overamplified towers of power that made location the prime consideration in years gone by (sit too close to the speakers, and your aural perspective was ruined, never mind your hearing). The new facility sports small speakers arrayed throughout the listening area, and the fact that these employ time-delay technology means that the music really does sound as if it is coming from the stage. New microphones and what must be a much more sophisticated sound system result in the perception of directionality (from left to right), too. All told, the results are splendid. There is a sense of rich bass response, and the woodwinds and brass are clear but not overpowering. The strings sound like strings and there is-or was, during the brief performance on June 16-a palpable sense of ensemble.
Part of that sense of ensemble doubtless stems from the fact that William Henry Curry was on the podium for this concert, the first of two all-orchestral affairs cleverly designed to provide a dose of quasi-classical fare for attendees who may think they prefer pops. The theme of the event was "Classical Jukebox: Latin Rhythms," so after a protracted delay to allow the storm to clear, the orchestra played Marguina's "España cani," a conga from Morton Gould's Latin American Symphonette, Gould's version of Lecuona's "Malaguena," a sparkling Youmans medley from Flying Down to Rio (the 1933 classic musical), and a brilliant snippet from Ginastera's "Estancia." The fact that the Youmans selection turned out to be the evening's most substantial piece did not seem to dampen the small crowd's enthusiasm one bit.
The playing was energetic, and Curry was his customary jovial self, making light of the miserable weather. Alas, management's first announcement that there would be a twenty-minute delay was not followed up in a timely way, and the show actually began fifty minutes late. After the aforementioned numbers, rain again set in, and because the shell still lacks its glass (or plexiglas) panels, the musicians retreated from the stage. After a five-minute pause, Curry returned to announce the NCS encore (the Prelude to Bizet's Carmen ) and escaped just as the deluge hit.
Curry is Artistic Director of the summer series; his boss, Music Director Gerhardt Zimmermann, led the second program before leaving for the summer, so Curry and Assistant Conductor Jeffrey Pollock will share the duties for the rest of the run. As it happens, Zimmermann was in Pittsburgh on June 16, leading a concert that involved his old buddy, pianist André Watts, who played not one but two concerti - Beethoven's "Emperor" and Rachmaninoff's Second in a quasi-gala event that began with Beethoven's Fidelio Overture. Those Pittsburghers got quite a deal in the double-header; if only Zimmermann had put on programs like that during his long tenure here, we might ... regret that he is soon to depart the scene.
As it turned out, the Rachmaninoff might have been seen as a warm-up for a performance of the same piece in Seattle on June 20, where the orchestra was the Seattle Symphony, the stick-waver was Gerard Schwarz, and the audience included representatives attending the American Symphony Orchestra League's annual conference.