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Here in The Triad of North Carolina we are very lucky to have some excellent musical ensembles. One such group is the Winston-Salem Symphony, now in its 66th season. This concert offered an interesting program of music for chorus and orchestra. The combined choirs of the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale and the University of North Carolina School of The Arts Cantata Singers created sounds so pleasing at the Stevens Center that it will not be a performance soon forgotten.
The performance opened with Alexander Borodin's perennial favorite Polovtsian Dances. Taken from his sole opera, Prince Igor, they fully embody the exotic, Oriental flavor that the “Mighty Five” liked to spice their compositions with. Not an easy work to play, the orchestra displayed excellent form in tackling this note-heavy work. The woodwinds in particular did a wonderful job of handling Borodin's tricky writing, especially the clarinets. The chorus, while certainly loud, might have done a better job of diction, however they are to be commended for their precise intonation and plucky handling of the text. Russian isn't an easy language to sing. Robert Moody's conducting offered not only a robust, exciting interpretation but also kept the proceedings well under control. I couldn't imagine a finer opening for this concert.
After a brief address to the audience about the music being played, the musicians turned to John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony. The program notes stated that this work, cast in one large contiguous movement, was drawn from the interludes and arias of the composer's eponymous opera. It is also a work that could not be more markedly different from the preceding work. The symphony traces the events of the opera from beginning to end, from the bomb's detonation in the desert to Dr. Oppenheimer's wrestling with the guilt of creating such a horrific weapon. Whereas the Borodin was lyrical and flowing, the Adams was tough and angular, unforgiving in its avant-garde harmonies. This also made it a much harder work to bring off convincingly. However, the orchestra navigated deftly through this difficult score, never losing track of Adams' challenging writing. Every section stood out, with special mention to the principal trumpet and trombone. In spite of a successful traversal of the work, audience reception was tepid.
Rounding out the program was a performance of Irving Glick's choral symphony The Hour Has Come. The composer, much less the piece, was previously unknown to this reviewer. There are many so called “choral symphonies,” the most famous example of course being Beethoven's 9th. I found this to be the most unusual work on the concert. The text, along with the music, proved to be an interesting match. Set to poems of Canadian poet Carole Leckner, the work is a celebration of Earth and its natural wonders. The music proved to be a perfect match to the text providing a sonic picture to accompany the words being sung by the combined choirs. When the air was mentioned, the music depicted wind; the ocean was represented by cymbals, the earth sounded by low strings. Indeed, a veritable song of the earth. This was an excellent opportunity to hear a very good performance of what I assume to be a rarely performed work. The audience reaction was warm, and a standing ovation closed the afternoon.