Stevens Center was well-filled with music lovers anticipating hearing the fourth of five music director candidates for the Winston-Salem Symphony during the 2018-19 season. Many a well-prepared candidate has gotten a career boost from a last-minute substitution for an established colleague. London-born George Jackson, winner of 2015 Aspen Conducting Prize, substituted for Daniel Harding with the Orchestre de Paris for a performance of Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony – no mere divertimento! The Winston Salem Symphony’s required works were by Mozart and Dvořák. His own selection for this performance was an early work by Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006).

Ligeti survived a forced labor camp during WWII and was made to churn out folk-based choral music during the communist era. Fleeing to Austria during the ill-fated 1956 revolution, he quickly caught up with and adapted to contemporary trends. In contrast to his late, brief microtonal works, Concert Românesc (Romanian Concerto) is a seamless four-movement work that draws upon the composer’s early use of folk style.

Jackson secured brilliant and stylistic playing from the orchestra players. Throughout the concert, his right-hand baton beat was clear as he moderated dynamic and expression with his left. As section after section entered, it was if he were sculpting in sound. The palette of string color and tone was remarkable while the woodwinds were strongly characterized. Highlights were the dance-like second movement with its swirling, infectious vigor and a wonderful evocation of alphorns in the last two movements. Principal horn Robert Campbell on rear stage was precisely echoed by another horn positioned on a balcony extension high above me.

The orchestra was appropriately reduced to accompany Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, K.503, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91). Some have nicknamed this work as Mozart’s “Emperor Concerto” because of its majestic scoring. It is in three movements: Allegro maestoso, Andante, and Allegretto. Soloist Clara Yang is an associate professor and head of keyboard studies in the music department of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and is an active performer locally, nationally, and internationally.

I was reminded of the great, late Mozart symphonies as Jackson wove the dramatic introduction to the first movement. His accompaniment perfectly supported Yang as a chamber-music-like give-and-take between the orchestral players and the soloist took place. Yang’s clear, crystalline tone and sparkling articulation was a constant delight. The cadenzas, of her own composition, were stylistically apt and pleasing. More than once during the slow movement, I was reminded by the dialog between Yang and the vivid woodwinds of Le Nozze di Figaro. Yang and Jackson brought out plenty of drama and flair in the finale. Never miss a chance to hear Yang perform!

Dvořák’s beloved and well-known Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88, ended the concert brilliantly. Its four movements are packed with a variety of themes based upon Bohemian or Moravian folk music. The cellos and low strings produced full, rich sonority during multiple appearances of their theme. Every section of the orchestra gave their all. Among the many principal players with significant solos were flutist Kathryn Levy, concertmaster Corrine Brouwer, clarinetist Anthony Taylor, trumpeter Anita Cirba, English horn player Cara Fish, and, throughout all three works, timpanist Peter Zlotnick.* Jackson has set the bar very high for the other music director candidates.

This program will be repeated on March 5. See our sidebar for details.

*Edited/corrected 3/5/19.