For the debut of the 17th Summerfest season in Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, the NC Symphony packed their program with three main events: a performance from last year’s concerto competition winner, their annual “Play with the Pros,” and the classic New World Symphony. Throughout it all, conductor David Glover was perhaps even more lively and animated than usual with his conducting, and the orchestra was surely excited to kick off another exhilarating Summerfest season.

After the usual picnic prizes were given and the audience settled down under the setting sun in the amphitheatre, cello soloist and Chapel Hill native Jonah Krolik came out for his concerto selection, the Allegro movement of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor (Op. 104). This was a delightful precursor to the larger Dvořák piece ahead. This movement was quintessential Dvořák, filled with romantic folk melodies, rustic dance tunes, and spotlights for the woodwind section. Krolik’s work shone especially in his expertly-phrased melodies that were either solos or supported lightly by the orchestra. The ending sections of this concerto movement consisted of a series of increasingly virtuosic cadenzas leading into the orchestra’s triumphant return, building tension that was released as the cello and orchestra were unified.

For the next two selections, Verdi’s overture to Nabucco and Silbelius’ Finlandia, the orchestra was augmented by guest musicians from all around the Triangle area. The brass section stood out from the beginning of the former, with solemn hymn-like chord progressions punctuated by orchestral outbursts. The playful triple sections of the overture were soon replaced with Finlandia‘s brooding, dark crescendos, with passion just slightly hidden beneath the surface. Sibelius’ sweeping phrases reflected the architecture and landscape of the Booth Amphitheatre, making this piece a clever choice for the outdoor venue. When that famous tune came along, originating in this work but soon adapted into several folk songs and hymns (such as the Christian hymn “Be Still, My Soul”) one could hear audience members humming along.

Following the intermission, and just as darkness began to set in, the NC Symphony dove into the monumental and stirring work that is the New World Symphony. It is hard to find a severe critic of the music itself, since each movement contains memorable melodies and unique transformation of those themes. No matter how many times I’ve heard this symphony, whether in recording, on the radio, or live in a concert hall, there was something special about hearing it performed at dusk under the trees. Somehow, the melodies seemed to resonate even more. From the bold, arpeggiated theme in the first movement that winds its way into each of the following movements, to the heart-wrenching beauty of the Largo movement’s theme (and the revered English horn solo), the NCS definitely did Dvořák justice in the open air. In the final movement, aptly named Allegro con fuoco, a fierce brass-led melody makes way for restatements of each of the previous themes, transformed and intertwined together to the final mighty cadence.

The pieces, guests, and location for this concert showcased the NCS’s strong and lasting relationship with the community, and this concert was a great introduction to the action-packed summer season ahead.