On Wednesday, February 15, in Baldwin Auditorium, the Duke Symphony Orchestra presented its next-to-last program of the season. Mozart is ubiquitous this year, and Mozart figured in this concert, but there was much more, too. To get things underway, the orchestra served as backup band for 14 Suzuki students from R.N. Harris School, where members of the Duke SO serve as violin tutors. Ann Bauer is the director of the program, and it was a treat to see the kids arrayed across the stage, and to hear them play short bits from the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and a vibrant little Allegro by Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998). These were arranged for Suzuki fiddlers and orchestra by Carl Schimmel, and lest you think to yourself, “Humm, Schimmel – a piano maker,” this one is a doctoral candidate at Duke!

The Duke SO’s portion of the program began with a brisk, incisive reading of the Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro by the Birthday Boy of the moment. This left at least one listener breathless and amazed at the brilliance of the playing. Davidson has done and continues to do wonders with this large orchestra, and the clarity and cleanliness of this Overture provided just one more example of their collective prowess. That said, this was a teaser, a bit like the item on the news program that touts the news magazine program coming up next…, because the Duke SO undertakes the whole thing – all of Le Nozze, in a semi-staged concert version – on April 6, repeated April 8. (We’ll have details in our calendar a month or so in advance.)

Mozart’s famous Symphony in G Minor came next, and it, too gave great pleasure, although the pacing wasn’t as daring as the Overture had been. Davidson’s programs include some things seasoned concert-attendees consider warhorses, so it’s important to remember that many of his musicians were playing this masterwork for the first time. This showed throughout, in the verve of the performance and the enthusiasm with which it was realized.

The orchestra’s Principal Cellist, Ashley Price, is also a pianist, and it was as a pianist that she joined the orchestra to perform the brilliant Allargamente movement of Ravel’s Concerto in G; she earned this solo turn as a result of winning the 2005-6 Concerto Competition. Her playing was quite marvelous, and she was beautifully supported by the orchestra. This is a brilliantly-colored piece, rich in percussion, that includes many turns in the solo sun for members of the orchestra. The contributions of guest harpist Laura Byrne were particularly noteworthy.

Everybody seems to have loved Mozart for a long, long time – including Tchaikovsky, who composed his fourth Orchestral Suite as a tribute to the composer he may have revered above all others. “Mozartiana” is based on various Mozart compositions and themes (nicely described in fine program notes by Cheryl Ho). There were lots of pleasing solos, including a long one featuring Concertmaster Rahul Satija. The orchestra played the admirable work very well indeed, earning warm applause at its conclusion.

It may be worth mentioning that all the program notes, by members of the orchestra, were informative and well-written – Ho’s plus sections on the Mozart scores by Daniel Yang and on the Ravel by the evening’s piano soloist (who played cello in the Tchaikovsky and turned in some fine little string solos there, too).