I was disappointed that the opening work on the printed program for this concert, Terry Mizesko‘s Concerto for Double Bass (2017), has been rescheduled for the Eastern Music Festival‘s 2019-20 season. The orchestral premiere was back in February 2018 with bassist Leonid Finkelshteyn and the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh. (The piano reduction was performed just before that in Chapel Hill where CVNC covered the event.) On this evening, its replacement was a work I first heard at the 1981 EMF in Dana Auditorium with another student orchestra and only once since.

The Tuba Concerto in F minor, IRV. 92 (1954), by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), was the first important concerto for an instrument that was slow to be accepted into symphony orchestras. The solo instrument is the bass tuba. The piece is in three traditional movements: Allegro moderato, Romanza: Andante sostenuto, and Finale: Rondo alla tedesca. Cadenzas in the first and last movements are a cornucopia of the tuba’s dynamic range and surprising technical abilities.

EMF principal tuba Aaron Tindall was the virtuoso soloist. It is an understatement to say his performance was breathtaking, not least his breath control and stamina! His articulation, whether in fast passages or slow melodic lines, was superb. The gamut of musical fireworks in the cadenzas was astonishing. Conductor Grant Cooper led the all-student Young Artists Orchestra in carefully balanced accompaniment and generally fine ensemble within and among sections. The first movement opens with typical Vaughan Williams’ robust bluster while the middle movement has much of the composer’s pastoral mood. The finale is a fast paced tour de force for soloist and orchestra. Tindall, currently principal tuba of the Sarasota Orchestra, is in his second season with the EMF.

After intermission, two faculty principal players joined the orchestra as soloists for Don Quixote: Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, Op. 35, TrV 184, by Richard Strauss (1864-1949). The character of the deluded Don is portrayed by the cello soloist while his faithful servant, Sancho Panza, is delineated by the viola soloist, often coupled with tenor tuba and bass clarinet. After an extensive introduction during which all the character themes are presented, ten variations musically paint the Don’s adventures such as No. II, his battle with sheep, No. IV, his attack of religious pilgrims, No. VII, his delusion of flight, and No. IX, his attack of two Benedictine monks, before the Don’s sanity is returned in the Finale No. X leading to his moving death.

Principal cellist Neal Cary gave a deeply moving interpretation of the Don. His intonation was excellent and his use of color, dynamics, and phrasing was most effective. The viola of Daniel Reinker has a particularly full, rich sound that easily projected into the hall. His plangent portrayal of Sancho Panza was deeply satisfying; a highlight was Panza’s garrulous doubting of knightly ideals in variation No. III. There were numerous fine student musician solos over the course of the variations. Among them were several by the concertmaster Mateo Garza, oboist Kate Burns, clarinetist Ashley Shah, Quinton Smith, English hornist, bassoonists Abbey Heyrich and Karen Stephenson, harpist Morgan Short, trumpeter Roy Fussio, and hornist Ava Conway. Reinker’s vivid Panza was strongly supported by Davis Hampton playing bass clarinet and Troy Moeller playing tenor tuba (or euphonium). Besides their solo roles, both Cary and Reinker also joined in playing along with their respective sections.

Cellist Cary joined the EMF faculty in 1984 and has served as principal cellist since 1988. He is principal cellist of the Richmond Symphony. Principal violist Reinker has been on the EMF faculty since 1987 and is principal violist of the Nashville Symphony. Both players were of the All-Star Orchestra, led by Gerard Schwarz, which made a series of programs for public broadcasting.

The festival continues throughout the month. See our calendar for details.