A large and enthusiastic audience in the 2,100 seat Belk Theater in the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center heard a fine menu of mostly short pieces that served as a sampler tapestry in sound that displayed both the technical skills and depth of musicianship of the members and sections of the Charlotte Symphony. Spanish conductor and composer Guillermo de Roxlo founded the orchestra in 1932 as the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Current Music Director Christof Perick is the tenth person to hold the position. It was an imaginative stroke to invite five of his predecessors to join him leading the CSO’s musicians in some of the finest works in the repertoire that are about ten minutes long. Taken together, the five maestros represent nearly 50 years of the orchestra’s history

Playing Mozart is like walking the high wire without a net. The composer provides no cover for any imperfection, the slightest error in intonation or ensemble is like curdled milk. Perick opened the concert with the four-minute overture to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Those few minutes revealed every section of the orchestra on its toes, with exactly unified ensemble, clear articulation of the fastest passages, strong woodwinds, and finely blended brass. With Perick in charge, mastery of classical style is never in question.

Henry Janiec, now 76, came to Charlotte as Music Director of Charlotte Opera (now Opera Carolina) for the twelve years 1956-67. He served as part-time Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony from 1958-63. The musicians were part-time and were sometimes filled out with college students. He also served as Artistic Director of Brevard Music Center for 32 years from 1964-96. Janiec led a vital performance of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9. By refining the quiet accompanying strings during the gorgeous English horn solo, Janiec brought out a poetic depth too often missed in this work. He secured a lovely French trumpet sound too.

Richard Cormier, 77, was Music Director from 1963-67. He was the first full-time director and pioneered in hiring both African American guest artists and players (two teachers in the school system). In an interview with WDAV 89.9FM, he recalled that a usual country club reception was cancelled when he scheduled soprano Adele Addison and her reception in the Ovens Auditorium lobby. That was a local scandal. He received letters threatening to “tar and feather him.” The board had charged him to “improve the sound of the orchestra” and he ruffled a lot of feathers when he replaced players with new hires. Cormier expanded the orchestra’s outreach efforts that included both educational concerts and out-of-town performances. He continues to conduct, leading a number of regional chamber orchestras in fifteen concerts annually.

Cormier said he chose the finale of Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88, because it was on the first program he led in Charlotte. The opening trumpet solo was brilliantly performed with gleaming tone. Strings sounded full and rich, especially the portions of the score calling for glowing viola and cello section solos. Cormier secured alert playing in fast passages with solid rhythms while giving enough expansion in the slow portions for the melodies to yield full effect.

Jacques Brourman, 75, led the orchestra 1967-76, hired the first core of full-time players, and expanded educational efforts by taking smaller orchestras into the public schools in addition to using Ovens Auditorium for full orchestra concerts for school children. He expanded the orchestra’s repertory and introduced more contemporary works. He led a tightly controlled performance of Enesco’s First Romanian Rhapsody in A Major, Op. 11 with just the right amount of elasticity in phrasing and perfectly gauged dynamics. Both he and Janiec had particularly striking “stick” technique.

Leo Driehuys, 74, who led the orchestra 1977-93, expanded the full-time roster to about 60 players and took the orchestra on a four-concert European tour. This tour, described by Driehuys as both “the first and last,” was a Pyrrhic victory with good reviews proving to be poor currency for a hemorrhaging budget. He strongly supported the local developments that culminated in the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in 1992 with its Belk Theater, the finest venue for opera and one of the best venues for concerts in the state. The conductor says one of his best accomplishments was to expand the community’s sense of ownership of the orchestra.

Driehuys led a stirring and vital performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s virtuosic “Capriccio Espagnol.” Attacks were razor sharp, and rhythms had flair as the musicians gave him everything he asked for — in spades. While many principal players had brilliant solos, the most extensive and varied were found in the fiery playing of Concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu. After having all the soloists stand, Driehuys stood aside as he shared the hearty and well-earned applause.

Canadian-born Peter McCoppin, 58, led the orchestra from 1993-2000. This was a period of some of the orchestra’s worst financial hardships. The conductor drew upon his previous experience as a broadcaster and speaker in Canada to communicate with audiences. Today he both conducts and runs a motivational speaker service, counseling business executives. Eschewing the baton, he molded a refined performance of Berlioz’s favorite music, the Love Scene from Roméo et Juliette, Op.17.

Current director Christof Perick brought the celebratory program full circle by ending the announced music with a complete performance of the Mozart’s glorious Symphony No. 36 in C, K. 425 (“Linz”). Balance was perfect and the blending of the brass, especially the horns, was outstanding. Woodwinds were strongly defined. Not a sour note was heard from the strings. With vital and committed playing directed with great style, who could ask for anything more?

With the orchestra board’s selection of Perick, a major conductor with an extensive European career, as well as a prominent guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and with major American orchestras, the Charlotte Symphony has committed to a major leap upward in status. His six seasons with them have led to substantial refinement of the orchestra’s tone and far tighter ensemble.

The concert ended in high spirits and good humor as each former maestro feigned “ego” and took over the podium to direct Johann Strauss’ “Radetzky March,” that perennial favorite close for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Year’s Concert with its encouraged audience participation through rhythmic clapping of hands.

Note: For interviews with the conductors involved in this program, visit WDAV’s site at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wdav/arts.artsmain?action=