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The North Carolina Symphony put its season theme of "celebration" into action on Friday night with the second of four performances of A Rodgers and Hammerstein Celebration. After a visit to Pinecrest High School, the NCS returned to its home base in Raleigh to finish out the run of performances. Maestro Wesley Schulz led the ensemble with his ever-expressive enthusiasm, setting the tone for a true celebration with the opening number, "The Carousel Waltz." The apropos instrumental established the orchestra's impressive unity, notably in the trills of the strings sounding in one voice, and balance between and among each section. This balance resounded in many ways throughout the evening as the NCS demonstrated its virtuosity not only with Richard Rodger's layering of instruments to create varied dynamics but also in capturing the composer's proclivity for compelling story-telling through music. The song selection from Rodgers and Hammerstein's greatest hits buoyed the theme of musical diversity and lyrical prowess with numbers ranging from the robust, with "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" and "June is Bustin' Out All Over," to the tender, with "Edelweiss" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."
After their instrumental introduction highlighting the accomplished Richard Rodgers, the NCS made way for a celebration of his counterpart, librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The audience received a special thrill with the introduction of Oscar Andy Hammerstein III, grandson of the famed lyricist and established artist in his own right, as the host for the evening's program. The rest of Act I featured the orchestra in more supportive orchestrations that allowed vocalists Nicholas Rodriguez and Teri Hansen to take the spotlight with some of Hammerstein's most beautiful lyrics from Oklahoma! and Carousel. Rodriguez bookended the vocal performances with his flawless baritone in "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" and the final "Soliloguy" from Carousel to end Act I. Hansen presented a bold operatic soprano highlighted in her final Act I solo, "You'll Never Walk Alone." The pair enjoyed a fun, flirty chemistry in their bright Act I duets which included "People Will Say We're in Love" and "June is Bustin' Out All Over."
Act II continued in chronological order by production and saw a return to a more balanced program between music and vocals. The prominent string and brass compositions "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Shall We Dance" paired with poignant lyrical messages, most notably "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," had the audience ready to join the fun midway through Act II. Rodriguez did well to encourage a sing-a-long of "Edelweiss"; it seemed he would have gotten one, invited or not. Hansen built up audience participation with the subsequent "My Favorite Things" and "Do-Re-Mi," even traveling into the audience to give patrons a turn on the microphone. After the emotionally charged finale of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," which Hansen and Rodriguez performed together, the audience thrilled when their plea for an encore was granted with the rousing titular song from Oklahoma! Oscar Hammerstein III put the cherry on top for those of us daring to hope to hear a melody from him when he stepped out to join with the vocalists on the final refrain. Take advantage of two more chances to hear the NC Symphony celebrate the contributions of perhaps the greatest partnership in musical theatre, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
This program repeats twice on Saturday, March 7. See our sidebar for details.