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The North Carolina Symphony continued its Wilmington series with a program of two large-scale romantic works. In between came the performance of a piece literally heard for the first time in the past couple of months. Taking place in Wilmington's splendid new Wilson Center, the program was led by the orchestra's music director, Grant Llewellyn.
The concert opened with the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy by Tchaikovsky. This often-performed music was given a very effective performance. The opening immediately displayed the trademark beauty of phrasing of the orchestra's wind section. The long introduction had sustained tension as well as expansive lyricism. The dramatic main motive, the fight music, was rhythmically taut; the following love melody was finely phrased. The climaxes were strong or, in the case of the love music, rapturous. One had the impression that the orchestra loves playing full-bodied romantic music such as this.
The first half ended with Everything Happens So Much, by Timo Andres. Hailing from California and Connecticut, Andres, at 32, is already attaining the highest musical echelons. His works have been commissioned by organizations such as the LA Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and the Library of Congress. This latest one was commissioned by the Boston Symphony and premiered by that orchestra in a concert heard late last year.
The work's title is intentionally ambiguous. The broadcast commentary to the premiere says that the music "suggests energy and busy activity." There is "a surface tension to it, a kind of restlessness. Things happen at different rates, which magically work out contrapuntally." The Boston Symphony is featuring Brahms this season and wanted a work which related to that composer. Andres' connection is with the contrapuntal style of Brahms' music, indeed a strong characteristic; Brahms revered the music of Bach.
This attractive 11-minute piece began with a perky rhythmic idea, starting in the high range and gradually taking over the orchestra. A buildup on this idea was followed by a short lyrical interlude. A bright brass-inflected return of the rhythm followed, and the climax of this led to a more extended lyrical section which included a lush melody in the violins. Another buildup brought the high point of the piece which ended softly and reflectively, with hints of the rhythm where things had begun.
The orchestra played the piece strongly. Apart from a little shakiness at the opening, the complicated irregular rhythms sounded solid. The percussion section got a resounding workout and helped project the total effect. The melodic lines were expressive and the climaxes effective without being overdrawn. The proportions of the piece came over convincingly.
Llewellyn deserves much praise for bringing the music of young composers to the North Carolina public. Such pieces can be a significant challenge to learn and perform when compared with works in the standard repertory. And this up-and-coming music well deserves to be experienced by listeners. Andres rates as one of the more promising composers on the emerging scene. An active performing pianist as well as composer, we will probably hear a good deal more from him.
The concert concluded, after the intermission, with another romantic showcase, Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. Everything about the performance was successful, from the stern opening to the ethereal winds which followed; from the appealing modal bassoon solo at the start of the second movement to the gentle dance of the third and the beguiling clarinet solo within. The high points of the fourth movement were blazing. Parts here are like a tour-de-force of combining musical motives, as well as in sumptuous orchestral sound. Particular note should be made of the orchestra's concertmaster, Brian Reagin, who played with passion and nuance the famous solo depicting Scheherazade herself. The very high-lying passages had beautiful expression. He was accompanied sensitively – at times as in a duo – by harpist Vonda Darr.
The piece ends with a beautiful quiet, as Scheherazade can finally experience a peaceful night. The audience greeted this introverted conclusion with well-deserved enthusiasm.