For his final set of Classical Series concerts as Music Director of the Winston-Salem Symphony, Peter Perret chose a program that showcased his interpretative strengths. This season was his twenty-fifth, and the May 16 concert in Stevens Center was chosen to honor his impact on the local community and state through his music education outreach efforts. Terrell Shepherd, an African-American senior at Winton-Salem State University, was awarded the first annual Peter Perret scholarship. He began studying with Perret beginning when he was in the eighth grade and, after an interruption, resumed when he entered college. The $1,525 award will be applied to further studies at the University of South Carolina. Perret said that his protégé has developed a fine stick technique.

Shortly after becoming Music Director, Perret started the statewide Winston-Salem Youth Talent Search. A rising talent from the Triangle, fourteen-year old Audrey Low, was the first-place winner for 2003. The student of John Ruggero has won numerous regional awards from the N.C. Federation of Music Clubs, the Durham Symphony’s concerto competition, etc. Low’s performance of the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto served as a hearty appetizer for the concert. Perret created a plush Romantic framework for Low’s assured and accomplished pianism. Near the beginning and only briefly, the orchestra verged on covering; the dynamics were quickly adjusted. She has a solid command of the keyboard and had no trouble conjuring full, rich sound, and she clearly has her own ideas about phrasing, for there was no evidence of rote playing of the notes. Low is a most promising talent. Afterward, Perret praised Ruggero for turning out so many winning students. When Low was reluctant to reveal how much she practiced with her teacher listening, Perret said he felt like Art Linkletter, and shifted his line of questioning.

The regular concert program focused on Spanish music and its influence on French music. “Alborada del Gracioso” (“The Jester’s Morning Song”), the fourth movement of Ravel’s solo-piano Miroirs (1905), was orchestrated in 1918. Perret secured tight ensemble and alert rhythms. Guitar figurations were suggested by strings playing pizzicato and col legno (with the wood of the bow). Fine solos were played by principal oboist John Ellis and Cara Fish, English horn. Principal bassoonist Mark Popkin gave the first of many gorgeous solos heard throughout the afternoon when he opened the slow middle section.

Chilean guitarist Carlos Pérez brought a broad palette of color and breathtaking articulation to Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez . Perret balanced the reduced orchestra carefully. After the lively first movement, the solemn tone of Fish’s English horn opened the second movement, evoking the sound of saeta , a high-pitched keening song performed by women from their balconies during the annual religious procession through the streets of Seville. This was repeated in more florid form by Pérez, who was awesome in the extended cadenza. One could scarcely believe the speed and precision of his fingers racing across the guitar’s strings in the playful last movement. I did not catch the name of the composer whose lovely waltz served as Pérez’s encore. Although there was a microphone near the guitar and three speakers on the stage, the guitar’s sound seemed natural and appeared to come directly from the player, as heard from my front balcony seat.

From Manuel de Falla’s El sombrero de trés picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), Perret selected a Suite consisting of “The Neighbor’s Dance,” “The Miller’s Dance,” and the “Final Dance” (“Jota”). The first featured sinuous melodies while the second was quite rambunctious, opening with brilliant cadenza-like phrases played by principal horn Frederick Bergstone and English hornist Fish. The brass were appropriately brazen in the last dance.

Perret and his musicians continued in top form in the three movements of Ibéria, from Claude Debussy’s Images. The first movement burst like fireworks with bright orchestral color while the dance rhythms were heightened by the sounds of castanets and tambourine. Strings evoked strumming guitars. The five horns were brilliant and in lock-step, as were the trombones. The viola section was outstanding. The slower and delicate second movement has a darker color, and Bergstone brought just the right “French-style” vibrato to his solo. The last movement featured vigorous plucked strings and bell-like sounds from the percussion. Concertmaster Corine Brouwer’s solo was strongly characterized. This was a lovely realization of French music that has been rarely heard in the Triangle in recent decades.

A page could be filled with the names of all the significant soloists whose efforts made for one of most memorable performances of Ravel’s “Bolero” I have heard. Since the Stevens Center has fine acoustics, Perret began the work truly “pp” and chose a moderate tempo that allowed for the best cumulative effect. The snare drum soloist, who set the rhythm at the beginning and continued to underpin it throughout, judged the gradual dynamic buildup perfectly.

Next season, the Winston-Salem Symphony will audition five finalists to succeed Perret; when the schedule is firm, it will be posted in our 2004-5 series tab. Perret’s extensive local and statewide activities, his support of young talent and utilization of outstanding regional artists, and his championship of new music have set benchmarks to inspire the candidates.