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In one of the most anticipated concerts of the season, the five winners of the annual Jan and Beattie Wood Concerto Competition demonstrated just how high the talent mark for instrumentalists has been set this summer at the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute and Festival. Violinist Jia Rong Gan (19), flutist Eva Ryan (21), trumpeter Casey Tamanaha (21), and pianists Esther Shin (24) and Vijay Venkatesh (19) won the opportunity to perform in Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium with the Brevard Music Center Orchestra under the direction of Ken Lam. Performing after only one rehearsal with the orchestra, each contestant exhibited a high degree of professionalism and musicality that would be the envy of working professionals, a fact not lost on the audience whose whoops and cheers of approbation must have echoed throughout the surrounding mountains.
Leading the afternoon program was Gan’s performance of the third movement of the Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61, by Camille Saint-Saëns, a piece composed with the aid of Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate in 1880. Gan, a rising junior at Western Illinois University, is a small young woman, yet her sound and command of her instrument belied her physical stature. The virtuosic passagework and its more melodious counterparts afforded her ample opportunities to display the range of her talent.
Two other instruments were featured prior to intermission. Eva Ryan, a rising senior at Northwestern University, performed the first movement of the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra of 1926 by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. This eclectic and delightful movement’s riches were to be found in its tonal restlessness and refusal to settle into any single mood. Ryan’s playing was dazzling — sophisticated, supple, rhythmically alive and beautifully controlled throughout, and conductor Lam maintained meticulous ensemble, especially in the various exposed orchestra duets with the flute. Casey Tamanaha, a third-year trumpet student at The Juilliard School, seemed to be very ill-at-ease throughout his playing of the Trumpet Concerto in A-flat by Alexander Arutunian. Perhaps it was the note he cracked early on that unsettled him, as he kept fidgeting, tugging on his clothes and pushing the hair out of his eyes. While his playing of this difficult work was not flawless, it was exemplary nonetheless, especially the beautifully lyrical middle section with muted trumpet. To play that well when one clearly is that nervous attests to the budding professionalism and raw courage of this fine young player.
Movements from two monumental Romantic piano concerti were programmed after intermission. Shin, holder of a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, is a very mature pianist whose performance of the first movement of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat was characterized by a sophisticated musicality and refined technical prowess. Due to her beautiful and sensitive performance, I heard the work anew more as a series of endlessly interesting reworkings of its central, tersely stated theme, and less as a vehicle for display. The final work for the afternoon was the ever-popular first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat minor, Op. 23. Venkatesh is from Laguna Niguel, California and studies privately with Norman Krieger at the University of Southern California. Here again was a young player in command of so much — strength, agility, a sense of musical line and color, and not least, a massive stage presence throughout this densely written, demanding work.