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The Greensboro Symphony Orchestra said farewell to Dana Auditorium, its venue for the last decade. After this Saturday concert, which was led by music director Dmitry Sitkovetsky, the ensemble will be performing in the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, soon to open in downtown Greensboro.
The evening's music making began with Capriccio sinfonico by Giacomo Puccini (Italy, 1858-1924). The composer is one of Italy's greatest opera composers, writing staples in the repertoire such as La bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. So, it comes somewhat of a shock to find out that the composer came to the public's attention with a work for orchestra, his graduation piece from the Milan conservatory in 1883. In this 15-minute jewel, one can hear all the passion and soaring lyricism that would eventually become the hallmark of Puccini's operas.
The work begins with a couple of dramatic outbursts broken by the gentle murmurings of harp and winds. Several pauses create expectation and tension, but mostly the work is given over to wonderful tunes, including several snippets of music that later ended up in La bohème. The orchestra dug its teeth into the hot-blooded passages with lots of tremolos from the strings. The gentle ending resolves the built-up tension.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Guitar Concerto No. 1 was next up on the playbill, but inexplicably it was the composer's Second Guitar Concerto (1953) that was played. The soloist for the work was the Russian guitarist Artyom Dervoed (b. 1981), the "Tsar of the guitar;" he has won more than a dozen first-place awards in international competitions.
Each of the three-movements attests to the composer's burgeoning film career, with sweeping, epic melodies. The first two movements begin with solo guitar laying out some of the melodic material. The first movement Allegretto moves easily between slower and faster tempos and contains a cadenza that spotlighted Dervoed's rhythmic accuracy as well as his sensitive playing. Alex Ezerman's divine solo cello work added wonderful color both here and later in the concerto. The slower 2nd movement utilizes a distinctive rhythm, first presented by the guitar. Solo violin (wonderfully played by associate concertmaster Fabrice Dharamraj) and solo cello and lots of writing for the wind section provide a gorgeous result. A fast middle section provides wonderful contrast and displayed the guitarist's virtuoso technique. The finale, the most animated of the three movements, calls for lots of percussion which adds nice spice. One was again impressed with the incredibly clean playing displayed by Dervoed.
The guitarist returned to perform the evocative "Elegy" by Federico Moreno Torroba (Spain, 1891-1982). This delicacy showed Dervoed's more gentle, lyric playing. The crowd was pleased.
I'm not sure what the first example of performance art is, but the final piece on the program, Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor ("Farewell") by Franz Joseph Haydn (Austria, 1732-1809), must certainly be included. The four-movement work was written in 1772 for the composer's employer, Prince Esterházy, who had traveled to his summer home with his entourage, including the orchestra. The prince extended his vacation and the musicians began to complain about being gone from their families and homes in Vienna for so long. Haydn made clear the musicians' longing for home through the unusual structure of the last movement.
The turbulent opening Allegro assai is dramatic with a sharply etched main theme; changes in dynamics add to the excitement. The orchestra's playing was edgy, brimming with surging energy. The more lyric theme provided a momentary repose. The slow second movement begins gracefully, but surprising pauses and a jerky rhythm (short-long) creates a more somber mood. Clean string playing (often using mutes) brought these disparate moods to the fore. The Minuet third movement also has dramatic changes in dynamics, but it is primarily buoyant and gentle. The trio featured some fine "hunting calls" from the horns. The finale begins energetically, with stirring strings. But the character changes drastically when the music stops; a slow section follows and the "performance art" begins. The musicians in succession begin to turn off their stand lights and leave the stage until only the concertmaster and the principal second violinist remain. In this performance, the concertmaster handed his violin to Sitkovetsky, who then played the concluding bars with the second violin. Esterházy apparently got the hint; the entourage left the next day, returning to Vienna.