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What is the seating capacity of Kenan Auditorium on the William Peace campus? Well, it’s perhaps a hundred more than you might have thought. That’s about how many overflow attendees sat in folding chairs along the walls, with a goodly contingent even seated upon the stage with the performers. These people were present for the latest edition of the Manning Chamber Music Series, “a partnership between the North Carolina Symphony and William Peace University.”
You needed to be a genuine Francophile with a jazz bent to fully appreciate the evening’s offerings. Just how Gallic was the program, you ask? One even learned that Gabriel Fauré was also named Urbain. And that Maurice Ravel might have answered if someone had called for Joseph.
Early mention must go to the honored guest musician, the only non-member of the North Carolina Symphony. If “lion’s share” can be applied to a program, then pianist Jonathan Moyer certainly played the role of that feline. He brought an adroit and seemingly tireless touch to each and every one of the eight selections, two of which ran to considerable length. A Raleigh native currently living in Connecticut, he skillfully ran the spectrum from honky-tonk blues to light fantasies to perceptive vocal accompaniments.
Opening in fine and appropriate style was Fauré’s Fantasie for Flute and Piano, Op. 79. Flutist (and emcee for the first section) Mary E. Boone performed brilliantly here and in the following Sonata for flute, piano and cello” by Jean-Michel Damase (b. 1928). If this substantial piece had been laid out in separate movements, the lento section would have been where cellist Lisa Shaughnessy sounded so engaging in the pensive duet with the flute. The three players made the other “movements” truly sparkle.
Ravel’s Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano brought on violinist Rebekah Binford for some spectacular bow and finger work. Here the aforementioned honky-tonk sounds emanated from the “Blues” movement. Both players were amazingly ingenious in the “Perpetuum Mobile,” even though Ravel might have found a slightly earlier ending.
Not to be neglected were BFA students serving as guest vocalists. Showing skilled stage presence and bright promise, these three furnished a fresh dimension to the program. Maigan Kennedy viewed life through rose-colored glasses with Piaf’s own “La Vie En Rose.” With “Allez-Vous En,” she told you just to go away. Delphon L. Curtis declared, “I Love Paris,” regardless of season or climatic conditions. “C’est Magnifique” was Melvin T. Gray’s view of matters in general. The indefatigable pianist Moyer gave a complementary accompanying touch to each of these performers.
How could it be that a composer with a name like Bohuslav Martinu was selected to close out a French program? Clarinetist Mike Cyzewski pointed out that this Bohemian artist spent so much time and study in Paris as to qualify for honorary citizenship. This clarinetist joined trumpeter Timothy Stewart and bassoonist Victor Benedict (along with Binford, Shaughnessy and Moyer) for this major light-hearted work, La Revue de Cuisine. These six players formed a veritable mini-chamber orchestra for this four-movement suite based upon the jazz ballet. Each player was allowed to shine somewhere within the marches, the tango and the Charleston.
Thanks to alumna Sara Jo Allen Manning, William Peace and the North Carolina Symphony, modern French and jazz flavors have here blended in satisfying manner.