November 23 saw the final performance in Raleigh’s Meymandi Hall of the NC Symphony program featuring guest conductor Jeffrey Kahane and cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Kahane addressed the audience before beginning, apologizing for doing so, with good comments about the differences between audiences of 200 years ago and today. The former went to concerts to hear new music, something they had not heard before, and were disappointed if all they got were repeats, while today’s concert-goers want primarily to hear the familiar and the favorites of the old and recoil from the new. The NC Symphony has traditionally sought a good balance, and this program was no exception.

It opened with Christopher Rouse’s approximately 11-minute Rapture, composed a mere three years ago, and described by its author as an attempt to represent musically “a state of almost limitless bliss,” a “spiritual ecstasy.” It opened with the double basses playing alone and built gradually with the addition of instrumental sections – brass, woodwinds, and finally percussion – and increased volume and faster tempi to a brilliant but melodic and harmonious climax. Kahane’s interpretation received well-deserved applause.

Next up was Schumann’s Concerto in A minor for Violoncello and Orchestra, Op. 129, featuring 20-year-old Alisa Weilerstein as soloist. She gave a good reading, never standing out too brightly above the orchestra or disappearing beneath it, in this Romantic but introspective rather than flashy work. She showed with her facial expressions and her body language as well as with her playing that she felt the music but did so without any of the over-the-top gestures that serve only to call attention to the soloist rather than to the music. The technique and lyricism were both fully there as was the fire when it was called for in this work that is primarily in a mode of restraint. When her part was silent, she was still, as is appropriate. Her comportment was thus much more pleasing for this reviewer than Wendy Warner’s in the Dvorák concerto last spring; there was more music and less show. The audience acknowledged the fine performance with a fairly prolonged standing ovation, and she expressed her gratitude by playing the Prelude to Bach’s Suite No. 3, in C. This allowed her to display her mastery of the instrument in an impressive virtuosic but nuanced reading. It made this reviewer wish also to hear her in the trio formation with her parents violinist Donald Weilerstein and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein. She struck me as an even finer chamber player than orchestral soloist. Here is a star of the next generation. May she not be seduced by the marketing hype to which so many of the current crop of women musicians have succumbed.

After intermission, Weilerstein sat in the cello section to play along for the work that filled the second half of the concert, Rachmaninoff’s 1940 orchestration of the Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, originally written for two pianos. Like the Schumann concerto on the program, this work proved to be the composer’s last major composition before ill health and death took him away. This was for many listeners the highlight of the evening, and Kahane led the NCS in a really fine performance. He maintained excellent balance and obtained good playing from all sections, as he did in the other works. He was energetic, but did not over-conduct or work himself up into a sweat as Andrea Quinn did. There was some fine solo work by an unidentified saxophonist in the first and third movements and from Concertmaster Brian Reagin in the second. One could see that the orchestra responded well to him, and so did the audience. It gave prolonged applause after this work as well, and Kahane was visibly anxious to share the credit with all the contributors, enthusiastically singling out many players for their efforts. This reviewer was impressed with the self-effacement displayed by both conductor and soloist in deference to making the truly good music with which the evening was filled in a spirit of real collaboration. It was refreshing.