Classical music under the stars, glass of wine in hand, and a bougie cheeseboard at your side: North Carolina Symphony Summerfest is in full swing! While the busy crowd and gorgeous weather were exactly what you would think of for an outdoor orchestra concert, what set this performance apart was the intensity of the programming. Many outdoor summer concerts include a smattering of lighter music, featuring pops or some of the more melodic, fluffy, and easy-on-the-ears works in the classical canon. Not so tonight. Under the precise and expressive baton of guest and former associate conductor (2014-2018) David Glover, the orchestra treated the contented audience to the underrated Fidelo overture, some rarely performed excerpts from Creatures of Prometheus, and Beethoven’s seventh symphony. Snacks and Beethoven? Where do I sign up?

Maestro David Glover, the current music director of the Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra, leapt, danced, and shimmied his way into this challenging program with enthusiasm. His clear and expressive style leaves the orchestra (and in many cases, the audience) in no doubt of the sound he is trying to elicit. He is dynamic without being tacky or overly dramatic, and his remarks were informative but in keeping with the lighter tone of the evening.

Several folks in the crowd had no doubt attended the 2021 NC Opera production of Fidelio, but it is always delightful to hear an overture with the full forces of a symphony orchestra. The winds and brass sounded particularly strong in this selection, both in the delicate moments and in the more brash and courageous sections.

Next up, the program featured excerpts from Creatures of Prometheus, the only ballet Beethoven composed. While the specific movements were not listed in the basic online program listing, comparing the memory of the performance to the score after the concert suggested that the four excerpts were the Overture, No. 3 Allegro vivace, No. 10 Pastorale, and the Finale (unfortunately, no guarantees on accuracy here). Considering that most of the audience was not likely familiar with any of the selections beyond the overture, it is disappointing that more specific information was not provided. If this identification of the selected movements is correct, the choice of the Allegro vivace to be paired with the Pastorale was a brilliant stroke of programming. As the former is in 3/4 and the latter is in a slower 6/8 and heavily features a woodwind trio, it strongly evoked characteristics of the classical Minuet and Trio structure and instrumentation, which helped lend a familiar structure to the isolated excerpts. It is very rare to hear anything from Prometheus besides the overture, and this performance was a real treat.

After a lengthy intermission, the NCS launched into a dramatic – although briefly disconnected in a few spots – performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The dynamic range was especially wide for an outdoor concert; no shying away from true pianissimos or Beethoven’s rare triple forte markings here. The absolute gem of a second movement was expressed with a special level of subtlety, which is so essential to portray the longing repressed in the understated melody. While the Scherzo seemed just a smidgen faster than it perhaps ought to have been, it was the more transparent moments throughout the symphony that made this performance memorable.

As delightful as the concert was, performing outdoors does have a few drawbacks. Most likely due to the difficult acoustics of performing outdoors, there were several moments of rhythmic disconnect during the evening, particularly between string and brass sections. The most obvious of these were in the almost uncomfortably fast third movement of the symphony. Additionally, amplification is always challenging at Koka Booth, partly due to the outdoor nature of the acoustics and equipment, but also because it is difficult to mic an orchestra even under the most ideal of circumstances. In this case, the mix was fairly heavy in the treble register (especially trumpet and strings) but the woodwinds seemed to be very nicely balanced. Naturally Koka Booth is never going to sound like Meymandi, but it would have been nice to get a little more support to help bring out those fantastic Beethoven bass lines.

Despite a few glitches here and there, it was a deeply satisfying program, and it would be difficult to imagine something better to do on such a gorgeous, balmy June evening. If you missed it, Summerfest continues with A Little Night Music later this week; please check our calendar for details.