PINEHURST, NC – A full house gathered on Saturday evening at Owens Auditorium on the campus of Sandhills Community College for what was an impressive mix of classical music presented by the Carolina Philharmonic, conducted by David Michael Wolff. The house lights fell, the crowd quieted, and the first words out of Maestro Wolff’s mouth were, “Ludwig went into a rage. . . “, and thus it began.

How fitting that a concert celebrating both “passion” and “power” fell on a cool, windy evening, mirroring some of the themes we heard safely indoors. We were first treated to a 55-minute symphony in four parts, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”) in E-flat, Op. 55 (1802-1804). Maestro Wolff informed the audience that the symphony, “Eroica” (which translates “Heroic”) was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. This dedication was later retracted once Napoleon named himself “Emperor,” a title not approved by Beethoven. A little research revealed that this piece of music changed the idea of what a symphony had been, proving that it could and should speak to how one might feel to be alive. Indeed, the music took us on a wild journey through the emotional extremes of joy, fun, peace, darkness, sadness, and back to joy. In fact, we experienced all those emotions in Part I alone. The violins would sing; the flutes would answer. The horns would explode; the strings would pluck. Part II carried us to a funeral march: dark and passionate, often with moments of dissonance and tension, with chords eventually resolving. Part III confused us further, as emotions often do, beginning with what sounded like a springtime party, quite a change from the tension in the previous section. We ended our journey with Part IV, which began with the impression that we were going to have some fun. If “Eroica” means “Heroic,” the completion of Beethoven’s symphony does indeed leave us with the idea that our hero ends up triumphant after all.

The first half of the evening ended with a standing ovation, and we were only halfway through. Following a brief intermission, Maestro Wolff introduced the “power” portion of the evening, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1894), and to our soloist, South Korean cellist Taeguk Mun. From the opening measures, we felt a theme being developed by the orchestra, giving us a sense of what is to come. But what was to come was a feast for the ears by our guest cellist. Not only does this piece require a command of technical skills, but Mun also played with passion right from the start, as well as with power. We observed him soaking up the moment, eyes closed, until it was time to lift his bow to begin Part I, Allegro. From the beginning, the piece is quite melodic, almost as if one could hum along. With a slight smile to Wolff, and a quick wipe of his brow, Mun began the second movement, the Adagio. This section allowed the flutes to have some time to shine, before giving our soloist a chance to exhibit the mastery of his instrument, with double stops, pizzicato, and even harmonics. The final movement gave the horns a moment in the sun. Repeated melodies began to feel familiar, and yet new as they flowed in and out of the Finale. Isn’t it interesting to know that Dvorak originally felt the cello was insufficient for its own solo concerto? Based on yet another standing ovation upon the completion of this work, followed by an encore (Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 in G), the audience clearly disagreed with Dvorak’s original opinion.

It’s not often in a computerized world, where information is just a click away, that one has an opportunity to sit still and listen, to soak up sound alone. Saturday night was a moment in time to do just that. The Carolina Philharmonic was flawless in its performance of both great works. The orchestra played with technical precision and emotion; allegros and adagios; fortes and pianos, leaving the audience filled with both passion and power.