A coincidence in scheduling gave Triangle music lovers the opportunity to hear UNC’s and Duke’s orchestras back-to-back, on December 6 and 7*. As we’ve often said, these groups are – by any standard – remarkable. Their leaders are outstanding conductors and teachers, and for many citizens who happen not to be sports fans, these groups are the public faces of their respective sponsoring institutions.

In keeping with tradition, both concerts began with overtures – at UNC on December 6, it was the wonderful, seasonally-related curtain-raiser for Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, one of the mini-masterworks of the late Romantic era. Folks who disdain Wagner can get a small dose of it in this rich score, and it was gorgeously realized in Hill Hall by the large orchestra (c.112 players, including 75 strings) under the watchful leadership of Music Director Tonu Kalam.

The Suite from Copland’s Ballet for Martha [Graham], better known as Appalachian Spring, received a fine performance, too, one that will linger in the memories of many who heard it and many who played it as well. (It was encouraging, while leaving the hall after the concert, to hear several members of the orchestra voicing their enthusiasm for what they had just helped bring to vivid life!) In the past we’ve harped on the absence of program notes at many UNC concerts (in this regard, the Duke SO “wins” hands down…), and it may be worth saying, again, that a list of the component parts of the Suite and blurbs on the other two pieces performed might have been helpful for young people (and older people, too) who were hearing the great scores for the first time. The playing was generally very fine. Appalachian Spring remains an intimate work, even in this enlarged version for full orchestra, and there were many finely-realized solo bits from the UNCSO’s stellar principals.

The finale was Walton’s “Crown Imperial” March, a grand coronation thing that must have wowed the royals and the public, too, when it was first performed in 1937. The performance was vibrant and exciting, and the crowd responded with great enthusiasm. It was enhanced by the organ part, often omitted – due, of course, to the dearth of organs in our major concert venues, aside from Hill Hall, Duke Chapel, and Meredith’s Jones Auditorium. W. Sands Hobgood did the honors, providing floor-shaking reinforcement for the march. There wasn’t quite enough organ, however – when these optional lines are performed, it is best to be able to hear them in all their resplendent glory. Next time….

This program was shorter than usual for the UNCSO, which performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony only nine rehearsals ago (we were told), in Memorial Hall. That’s probably the preferred venue in Chapel Hill now, but of course it doesn’t have an organ….

*For a review of the Duke SO’s December 7 concert, click here