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It was a damp, chilly spring night but inside Hill Hall Auditorium a warm, intergenerational audience collected to hear (and cheer on) their friends and colleagues of the Chapel Hill Philharmonia. This concert was special. Jonah Krolik, 2013 Young Artist Concerto Competition winner, would perform Camille Saint-Saëns' Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 for cello and orchestra.
One of his finest instrumental pieces, Saint-Saëns' cello concerto was first performed by Auguste Tolbecque in 1873 and has since been played by the world's most renowned performers. The passage work across shifting registers demands virtuosic technique and fine musicianship. I'm almost certain that I held my breath until he hit the beautiful slow theme nearly two minutes into the first movement. But from the moment he touched the strings, Jonah Krolik played with the calm and assurance of an experienced professional. With left sleeve rolled up and bow perfectly controlled in the right hand, Krolik drew an array of beautiful colors from his instrument.
Trusting the orchestra, Krolik was poised. His tempos remained steady and as the ensemble settled into balance, it felt like a being on a sailboat with a wind at your back. It is a youthful piece; notes fly in optimism. Emotional contrasting dynamics and rubato provide challenges. But the young artist remained undaunted. Krolik's performance was splendid. Professor Oehler (conductor) guided the young artist through the orchestra to a second bow. The audience cheered!
The orchestra also performed Hector Berlioz' magnificent "Symphonie Fantastique," Op. 14. In five descriptive sections and calling for additional instrumentation, this work exemplifies French Romanticism. Oehler led the orchestra through a bold performance. The violins, well in tune, produced lovely phrasing, especially in the second section, “Un Bal.” Two harps add to the enchantment. But the dream takes a morbid turn. The last two sections, “March to the Scaffold” and “Dreams of a Witches Sabbath," build to a dramatic climax. Contrapuntal work between strings, winds and brass add to the fury. Cellos unseat us by playing off beats, and bells send an eerie chill to our spines. The dynamic increases to an ear-splitting pitch when finally the cymbals crash. The marvelous reading came to an end and the audience applauded with enthusiasm.
The orchestra performed Emmanuel Chabrier's colorful "España." The three Fantastique French compositions made for a wonderful program and a warm send-off for a young member of the community. He has a bright future. It was a night to remember.