Two award-winning violinists joined Greensboro Symphony Orchestra music director Dmitry Sitkovetsky and members of the GSO for the first “Sitkovetsky & Friends” concert of the 2019-20 season. Having heard Mayuko Kamio and Risa Hokamura play as the magnificent soloists Thursday night with the GSO, I was excited to hear them in a chamber music setting. It was an evening of musical chairs before a large audience.

The four Miniatures, B.149 (Op. 75b), for two violins and viola, by Antonin Dvorák (Czech, 1841-1904), featured the two guest artists as well as Sitkovetsky and GSO concertmistress Marjorie Bagley in a sort of round robin manner of playing, all with GSO first-chair violist Scott Rawls. The first violin is given the lion’s portion of the tunes in each short piece, which contain several repeated sections. Terrific ensemble and both subtle and dramatic changes in dynamics made the Miniatures an inviting warm-up piece.

The opening Cavatina featured Kamio in the driver’s seat with Sitkovetsky playing second fiddle. The character was intimate and soulful, brought out by the trio’s sensitive playing. The Capriccio had Hokamura as first violin with Bagley as second. Some fiery fiddling made this lively piece a winner, and Rawls’ fine playing actually got a moment in the spotlight.

The Romance featured Bagley as leader in a plaintive tune, accompanied by Kamio. The final Elegie starred Sitkovetsky with Hokamura and Rawls playing slowly changing chords. The first violin presented short, broken lines that sounded like sobs.

The Double String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 65, by Louis Spohr (German, 1784-1859) was written in 1823. He intended for the two quartets to “face off” against each other rather than play as a unified ensemble.

Although the four-movement work begins with a unison line that features a series of upward skips (reminding me of Mozart’s C minor piano concerto) and the musical material is sort of evenly divided up, it is clear the first quartet, which was comprised of Sitkovetsky, Bagley, Rawls, and Alex Ezerman, cello, was the “main” ensemble. The other quartet was made up of Kamio, Hokamura, Simon Ertz,  viola, and Ryan Graebert, cello. With so many players, there were several passages where one or more players sat on the sidelines, resting.

The second movement Scherzo was spirited and not without humor. Interestingly, the members of the second quartet took over from the first at the end of the middle section, giving them a chance to strut their stuff. The third movement Larghetto is built around a simple and tender but not particularly passionate melody; this was lovingly played. The spirited finale begins surprisingly with a rapid-fire cello outburst, solidly played by Ezerman.

Fine intonation and good ensemble characterized the entire performance. This is one of those pieces that is great to hear. Once.

The evening concluded with the show-stopping Four Pieces for Violin and Piano by Pablo de Sarasate (Spanish, 1844-1908) – the first three of which are Spanish dances. All were superbly accompanied by pianist Nancy Johnston, no mean feat considering the rapid changes of character and tempo. She was with the violinists almost every step of the way.

Bagley played the “Jota Navarra,” which begins with some foot-stomping fiddling, followed by harmonics humorously pitted against short snatches of scales; add some double-stops and more tender moments for contrast. Bagley played all with appropriate fake-seriousness and impeccable musicianship.

The “Malagueña” brought Sitkovetsky to the stage for a slower, more melancholic number. To be sure, the piece picks up speed and has some acrobatic passages that are designed to “wow” the audience. And it did.

Hokamura played the lively “Zapateado” with as much energy and gusto as could be imagined. Pyro-techniques galore, triple-stop pizzicatos – all was great fun to hear (especially by an artist who is so young – born in 2001) and almost unsurpassable in virtuosity.

Almost. Kamio closed out the evening with “Zigeunerweisen” (Gypsy Airs), a work originally for orchestra and violin. Soulful and passionate playing (with a generous number of stratospheric harmonics and glissandos) eventually gave way to flying fingers and exuberance in the barn-burner conclusion. Of course, the audience leapt to its feet.