Symphony: Reveling with Fresh Talent
by William Thomas Walker
March 25, 2010, Greensboro, NC: The current recession has prompted performing organizations to explore less well-known repertoire and to sample the skills of rising young musicians. This double artistic bonus was on display in the Greensboro Symphony's concert in War Memorial Auditorium, given before a substantial audience. Music Director Dmitri Sitkovetsky's program, entitled "French Fare, with Stars of Tomorrow," focused on a national school of music too neglected in this state, and featured rising young soloists with local connections.
The Mother Goose Suite of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) opened the concert. Sitkovetsky led a refined, stylish performance featuring an exquisite sense of instrumental color and dynamics. His choice of subtle playing throughout the five movements made the brilliant climaxes all the more telling. "Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty" featured strongly characterized woodwinds set against ethereal strings. A fuller string sound supported Mary Ashley Barret's glowing oboe solo in "Hop-'o-my-thumb" or "Tom Thumb." Concertmaster John Fadial evoked the chirping of the birds that consumed the trail of crumbs by playing glissandos in harmonics. The melody in a pentatonic scale gave an oriental flavor to "Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas" which featured percussion and harp. In "Beauty and the Beast Converse" the delightful low rasps of the contrabassoon of Ann Shoemaker portrayed the Beast while Beauty was suggested by the waltz. The magical transformation came with a long harp glissando, played by Helen Rifas, and more elegant violin harmonics from Fadial. The harp and percussion evoked wedding bells for Beauty and her Prince Charming during the soaring apotheosis of "The Fairy Garden." Among other fine solos heard were those of clarinetist Kelly Burke and flutist Debra Reuter-Pivetta, heard throughout several movements.
Hannah Blalock, an 11th grade high school honors student from Matthews, NC, played with astonishing maturity and virtuosity in the gorgeous Dances for Harp and Strings, L.103, by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Sitkovetsky's accompaniment featured a carefully graduated balance with his soloist and fitted like a glove. Blalock studies with Helen Rifas, principal harpist of both the Charlotte and Greensboro Symphony Orchestras. Blalock has already racked up an impressive array of international and national awards including semi-finalist in the senior division at the most recent Lily Laskine International Harp Competition held in Paris, France. She was also the youngest harpist selected to join the Aspen Festival in Colorado.
Sitkovetsky led cellist Julian Schwarz and the orchestra in a stunning traversal of the Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33, by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Schwartz produced a full, warm tone and played with stunning, focused intonation and flawless articulation. Schwartz is already touring nationally and has a double Greensboro connection. He is the son of Eastern Music Festival Music Director Gerard Schwarz and has been a student at the festival.
Principal horn Robert Campbell's subtly controlled playing was featured in Ravel's somber and stately Pavane for a Dead Princess, played after intermission.
CVNC has followed the growth of violinist Stefani Collins since 2003, when she was a 14-year-old student concerto winner at the Eastern Music Festival. She was the first joint NC Symphony-UNC School of the Arts concerto competition winner, and she toured with the orchestra state-wide, playing the Dvořák Violin Concerto. Sitkovetsky had in past seasons featured her on both orchestral concerts and his chamber music series. Following her artistic growth has been a richly satisfying experience. Collins' immaculate intonation, refined dynamics, and sophisticated phrasing were featured in Saint-Saëns' "Havanaise" in E Major, Op. 183. She also brought fire and intensity to Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor, Op. 28. Her articulation in the fastest passages was breath-taking, and she produced a gorgeous, large tone.
Sitkovetsky's brief "Meet the Artists" sessions after the Thursday concerts are always worth attending. Collins' growth as a musician has been well-known to Sitkovetsky since she was in one of his master classes early in his directorship of the GSO. She discussed her current study at the Cleveland Institute of Music and her seasons at the Aspen Festival. She said the violin she played at the concert was a fine 1725/35 Francesco Goffriller on loan from luthier John Montgomery of Raleigh. As a youngster, Collins wanted the career of a soloist but says she is now strongly drawn to chamber music. Schwarz used his recently acquired 1790 English cello made by Benjamin Banks. Since the cello concerto repertoire is limited – none by Beethoven, Brahms, or Mozart – Schwarz finds chamber music essential to his artistic fulfillment.
This concert was dedicated to the memory of David Sherman, who with his wife Ann was a strong supporter of the GSO. At age 48 he had taken up studying the violin and progressed sufficiently to have become a violinist with the Greensboro Philharmonia in the 2008-09 Season. He was on the way to rehearsal when he was tragically struck and killed on October 24, 2009 while riding his bicycle.
*Links to CVNC reviews of Stefani Collins: