The UNC Symphony Orchestra performed in Moeser Auditorium at Hill Hall on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill. The scholarship benefit concert featured winners of the annual UNC Concerto Competition, giving the students the opportunity to perform with the orchestra before an appreciative audience.

The program began with guest conductor Vincent Povázsay on the podium. He is co-director and conductor of earspace, a contemporary chamber music ensemble based in Raleigh. He also serves as a cover conductor for the North Carolina Symphony. Povázsay presented a striking figure on the podium and elegant baton work, cueing critical entrances and nuances while maintaining tempo and dynamic balance, all from memory.

The opening number on the program was Overture to William Tell, Gioachino Rossini’s last opera. The opening section, scored for five celli with support from timpani and basses, is a beautiful depiction of morning in the Swiss Alps, the setting of the opera. It is followed by a storm section employing full orchestral resources and then a quiet pastoral movement, before closing with the familiar galloping tune that represents victory. The performance was effective and well played, especially the rip-roaring finale.

Lila Dunn is a UNC junior from Mendham, New Jersey, pursuing a Bachelor of Music in voice and a Bachelor of Arts in political science. She has performed in opera productions on campus and has come to love this art form. She sang “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” from Verdi’s Falstaff and “O luce di quest’anima” from Donizetti’s Linda de Chamounix. Tonu Kalam, conducted the orchestra in the lovely accompaniments. The strings soared over wood wind filigree in the Falstaff aria. The violins over quiet brass chords and a gorgeous melody over a standard accompaniment in the bel canto Donizetti aria were very nicely played.

Dunn demonstrated good dramatic and bel canto styles. Her smooth silvery voice was supported by well-developed breath control. One got the feeling that she knew where she was both in the moment and in the aria’s setting as well. Her high notes were crystalline, strong and in control.

Next on the program was the premiere performance of Taiga, a tone-poem by Maxwell Ramage, a composer and violinist born and raised in Durham. His works have been performed by New Voices Opera, Roomful of Teeth, and the Yale Symphony Orchestra. The Taiga is the coniferous forest that spans much of Canada, Alaska, and northern Eurasia. Ramage’s music seeks to evoke the vastness, awesome visual impact, and majestic beauty of this landscape. Celli in a sort of rolling are accompanied by woodwinds, and violins join in as the piece develops. There are passages that seem to indicate birds soaring over the trees and small animals scampering in the underbrush. Storms approach and dissipate. At the end, we catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis and the piece concludes quietly. Overall Taiga spoke in the composer’s own distinct voice. Kalam conducted. The orchestra was responsive and expressive.

Baritone Bradley Barefoot is a senior from Wilmington, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in public relations and a Bachelor of Arts in music. His special interests are music theater and choral singing. He sang “Prayer,” “Night Song,” and “Since You Went Away” from Nightsongs by H. Leslie Adams. The texts are from prominent African-American poets. For this performance, Povázsay returned to the podium.

Barefoot’ s stage presence and vocal quality speak strongly of communication. One felt as though he was singing for you personally. The three songs he chose for his performance provided a wide range of emotions ideal for his expressiveness.

The concert closed with a fiery performance of the third movement of Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor, Op.20, by Aleksandr Scriabin. Povázsay conducted and the piano soloist was Cody Qiu, a junior from Weddington (a suburb of Charlotte) who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in computer science and a Bachelor of Arts in music under the tutelage of professor Clara Yang. He is also a violinist.

Scriabin’s only piano concerto was written in the heat of inspiration in only a matter of days. However, the orchestration and other detail work on the score took nearly a year. Like his other orchestral works, it is rich in orchestral color and virtuosic elements. The third movement especially is rhythmically demanding, alternating passages of poignant beauty and rambunctious, driving rhythm. Qiu’s command of the keyboard, both gentle and full throttle was equal to the challenge and with the orchestra made for a thrilling performance.

These student UNC Concerto Competition winners and young creative performance artists hold great promise for the future of music. Whether they pursue careers in music or become informed and contributing members in their community, we are all the richer because of them.