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The Brevard Philharmonic held its second concert of the 42nd season in the Porter Center at Brevard College before a near-capacity audience. This season marks the debut of new artistic director and conductor James C. Fellenbaum. The program, devoted solely to works by Mozart, was performed with a period-appropriate, reduced-size orchestra. The opener was the Overture to Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), K.486, a singspiel from 1786 about singers, their antics, and their vanity. Steve Cohen, a familiar artist in Brevard due to his long tenure with the Brevard Music Center, was the featured soloist in the Clarinet Concerto in A, K.622. After intermission came the Symphony No. 38 in D ("Prague"), K.504. Concert sponsors were Rebecca and Lawrence Lohr.
Conductor Fellenbaum has breathed new life into the orchestra with his energy and artistic vision. Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, he is conductor of the Knoxville Symphony and the Youth Orchestra of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra Association and also the director of orchestras at the University of Tennessee, the latter umbrella position encompassing his work in symphonic, chamber, and opera settings. His collaborations with popular artists and film with live orchestral accompaniment add impressively to his resume. As the Brevard Music Center has recently expanded its musical offerings to include concerts by pop groups, folk artists, bluegrass players, etc., perhaps we may likewise hear in the future from the Brevard Philharmonic an expansion of programmatic offerings beyond the realm of classical music.
The Brevard Philharmonic traditionally programs either violinists or pianists as featured soloists, so it was a welcome change to hear clarinetist Cohen. He has been a fixture at BMC since 1979, where he has played principal clarinet in the BMC Orchestra and served on the faculty. He has enjoyed as extremely active career as a soloist and chamber music player around the world and is currently clarinet professor and coordinator of the winds, brass, and percussion at Northwestern University. Cohen is an active performer in the Chicago area, where he plays with the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Lyric Opera orchestra.
The programming for this concert was a delightful offering for a Sunday afternoon. The rather light-weight opener, an overture to a brief "play with music" as Mozart himself called it, was a little gem of beautiful melodies expertly worked through by the composer so as not to sound labored. The orchestra did not "overthink" this little piece but tossed it off with appropriate charm. The seating of the cellos and basses more in the center of the orchestra contributed to a better overall acoustic balance, perceived even by those seated on either side of the hall, as I was.
Mozart's Clarinet Concerto was completed in 1791 for clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler, who toured with it through Europe and Russia. The composer had become intrigued by these single-reed woodwinds when he visited Mannheim, Germany, as a child and heard them played by experts. He began writing them into his symphonies and chamber music, among the latter the Clarinet Quintet and this single concerto. Cohen executed this iconic masterwork with the calm assurance of a master player. His tone was exceptional – uniformly beautiful from top to bottom – and his technical passagework was flawlessly executed with seeming ease. There were gorgeous moments in the second movement Adagio which simply took one's breath away. The final Rondo: Allegro was both a rousing closer and another exposé of the composer's inventiveness.
The "Prague" Symphony, another work dating from 1786, was composed one month before Mozart visited Prague, where he was warmly welcomed after a triumphant performance of his Marriage of Figaro. Though smaller in scope, with three movements rather than the standard format of four, it is known as a fully mature work in the genre. Fellenbaum conducted this (as well as the Overture to Der Schauspieldirektor) from memory, employing an expanded range of gestures and facial expressions. The winds, especially in the second movement, were particularly commendable. The entire orchestra executed the whole with confidence, energy, grace, and passion, making for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.