Opening night in Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium at the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute and Festival, where Keith Lockhart is beginning his third summer as Artistic Director, was many things this year. There was a festive atmosphere, to be sure. The Brevard Music Center Orchestra, comprised of one-third faculty and two-thirds students, was making its seasonal debut under Lockhart’s direction — that coupled with the palpable excitement of people coming together again to hear and make music after the long, harsh winter. But one could detect some sadness, too, as John Candler, President and CEO of BMC has announced his retirement after 17 years of service in that capacity. Guest artist Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano, musical icon, and paragon of graciousness, likewise has announced her retirement and appeared in Brevard as a stop on her farewell tour. It’s impossible to say just how much these two people have given of themselves in service to music, how much they are loved and admired, and how much they will be missed.

Flicka has been coming to the Music Center since 1993, giving benefit concerts and master classes in addition to her appearances with the Brevard Music Center Orchestra. Her enthusiasm for its educational mission is readily apparent; as Maestro Lockhart said, she “gets the place.” Whenever she has performed, it’s been more like a homecoming with all that entails — warm interactions with faculty and students with the kind of good grace and familiarity that breeds inside jokes. She’s so musical and so likable; those fortunate enough to have performed as soloists with her, as two BMC student vocalists did on this concert, are sure to have had the experience of a lifetime.  

The festivities began with Dukas’s regal Fanfare from La Peri for brass, evocative of the antiphonal Gabrieli tradition despite its modern harmonies. Next came Carl Maria von Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance” Op. 65, a spirited waltz originally written for piano and orchestrated by Berlioz. This, too, harkened back to a by-gone era in which the waltz reigned supreme. The playing here was impeccable, especially the lengthy cello solos in both the introduction and coda. Rounding out the orchestral offerings before intermission was the 6-movement Suite from Carmen by Georges Bizet, certainly an audience favorite, and rendered with some special effects, such as a trumpet placed outside the auditorium during the Prelude to answer the one onstage. Here again, the playing was impressive in its range of expressive nuances, tempi, and the strength of each and every soloist.

Ms. Von Stade next joined the orchestra to perform four selections from Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne, “Lo Fiolare,” “Uno Jionto Postouro,” “Chut, Chut,” and “Lo Coucut.” These evocative folk songs have been in her repertory for years and she still sings them with great expressivity; moreover, the beautiful orchestral accompaniments were simply stunning. The texts are in the local language, Langue d’oc, once the language of the troubadours and now unfamiliar to most. Although the gist of each song was announced, unfortunately much was lost in the absence of at least a translation in the program. Following this was Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, with the harp and clarinets’ introductory passages particularly spellbinding. Ending her first set was the duet “Ah, guarda Sorella” from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, with lovely BMC student soprano Veronique Coutu.

Emmanuel Chabrier’s quirky “Joyeuse Marche” led the after-intermission offerings. Next came several selections from Broadway — “Hello, Young Lovers,” from The King and I, and “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music. The duet with BMC student Nathaniel Olson, baritone, (“Why Do I Love You?” from Showboat), like the previous duet, simply brought down the house. Crowning her performance were the spirited renditions of the coquettish “Ah, que j’aime les millitaires” from Offenbach’s The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein and a favorite encore of hers, a  hilarious rendition of “Ah! Quel diner je viens de faire” (the “tipsy arietta”) from Offenbach’s La Périchole.

The evening concluded with Ravel’s “Bolero,” its incessant crescendo a fitting climax to a grand season opener. Co-sponsors were Jacquelyn and Bruce Rogow and the Rogow Greenberg Foundation, and the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation.