Two “spring” ballet scores and an “unconcerto” for oboe played by Eric Ohlsson, principal oboist of the BMC Orchestra, were the gratifying musical offerings in this performance at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Conductor Keith Lockhart, uncharacteristically subdued in his motions on the podium, seemed to be meting out his energy to the orchestra in measured bits, as though the experience of the music alone was taking its unseen, inner toll. Drenched and looking spent while taking his bows, this Artistic Director of the Center thus exhibited the huge investment of self he makes with each of his conducting appearances, to the thunderous approbation of the audience. Underwritten by Jacquelyn and Bruce Rogow and the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation, the concert was recorded for broadcast by WDAV and WCQS.

While the Brevard Music Center Orchestra is the flagship festival orchestra with its sections led by the Center’s Artist Faculty members, it is worth noting that students make up the vast majority of its numbers. That this is only the second concert performed by them this season indicates they are off to a very good start.

Dispensing with the usual singing of the National Anthem, Lockhart opened the concert with Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1944), originally titled “Ballet for Martha” for Martha Graham who’d suggested the title that stuck. The ballet’s story of a young couple establishing their home within the embrace of a religious community in Pennsylvania is profoundly moving, as the principals reenact their feelings of trepidation, anticipation, and joy in a timeless ritual. The orchestra performed the piece with a satisfying range of majestic and intimately sweet moments without the cloying sentimentality that often mars the work.

In keeping with the program’s pastoral theme, the orchestra next welcomed Olhsson as soloist for Vaughan Williams’ Concerto for Oboe and Strings in A minor (1944). This work was composed for British oboist Léon Goossens and premiered in Liverpool due to the danger of falling bombs in London. The pastoral associations are there not only with the historic associations of the instrument, but also the tune-filled meanderings of the score in which soloist and orchestra forge a lyrical partnership. Many of the conventional concerto trappings are discarded — the dramatic pitting of one against many, the lengthy formal orchestral introductions, the extended orchestral ritornellos — to include movements (minuet, musette, and scherzo) pilfered from other genres (chamber music and orchestral suites). The demands on the oboist are many and yet they seem (certainly in the hands of such a fine player as Olhsson) backgrounded, as it were, to the charming yodeling oscillations and many languid passages which seek to charm rather than impress.

At nightfall and after intermission the beast was unleashed. The shock effect of Stravinsky’s savage, primitivistic Le sacre du printemps is well known, but to hear it in an open-air auditorium in the dark seems to up the ante. The orchestra dug into the score with relish, mining its pounding rhythms, relentless ostinati, strident tunes, and stacked dissonances for all they were worth. The experience of this iconic music is one of going down a musical rabbit hole where one is pleasantly disoriented by its jarring juxtapositions and nightmarish surprises. The orchestra navigated this weird landscape with the polish and energy of pros, bringing the audience to its feet with appreciative shouts.    

This festival continues through August 7. For details, see our calendar or the presenter’s website.