DON DELAUTER: Symphony's Season Opener Appealing
Music Director Grant Llewellyn led the North Carolina Symphony in the season opener at Lee Auditorium on Sept. 28.
Appealing to a range of musical tastes, the program included Beethoven, Stravinsky, and North Carolina native Kenneth Frazelle. Adding nicely to the mix was young Canadian violinist James Ehnes. The orchestra was in great form as it began the new season.
To celebrate its 75th season, the NCS commissioned a "postcard" series of compositions by North Carolina composers.
We heard the world premiere of the first of these short works titled "The Swans at Pungo Lake," composed by Kenneth Frazelle.
About Frazelle, The San Francisco Examiner said his music "came straight from -- and went straight to -- the heart." The piece we heard showed the truth of this statement as the orchestra painted Frazelle's vivid musical picture of countless tundra swans and snow geese filling the air above Pungo Lake and then settling in as a colorful sunset signaled the quiet, graceful end to an Eastern North Carolina day.
The power, timeless beauty and enduring freshness of the Beethoven sound never fails to bring audiences to their feet. James Ehnes showed us why as he gave a superb rendition of the great "Concerto for Violin in D Major" by Beethoven.
Tension began to build as muted timpani sounds introduced the long first movement. A full three and a half minutes later, the soloist came in -- not in a spectacular way, but gradually and completely integral to the powerful orchestral sound easily recognizable as Beethoven's. The violinist's virtuosity would have to wait for the first cadenza.
Midway through the first movement, rain began to be heard on the roof of Lee auditorium, as Mother Nature competed with Ehnes for the audience's attention.
Ehnes' talent was evident from the start, but really showed in the first movement's cadenza. Written by Fritz Kreisler (Beethoven didn't write cadenzas for this work), it sounded like it truly belonged to the concerto, as opposed to being an added piece of fluff to show off the soloist.
The slow movement produced a pleasing lyrical conversation between soloist and various elements of the orchestra. It ended with a short well-played cadenza by Joachim, which led without pause into the lively final movement.
Although Ehnes showed great skill and technical expertise in the first two movements, his best work, for me, was the exciting rondo. Yet a third cadenza -- again by Kreisler -- gave this gifted soloist another opportunity to display his virtuosity.
The Ehnes performance was easily the evening favorite, as a standing ovation and roaring applause more than matched the thunder of the earlier storm.
Following intermission we heard Stravinsky's wild and irreverent "The Rite of Spring," another exciting ballet work from his collaboration with Serge Diagalev.
Initially shocking as a ballet, it has become a standard orchestral presentation in which shock has given way to thrill and amazement. The work is in two parts: "The Adoration of the Earth" and "The Sacrifice," with a short breather between the two.
The work begins with solo bassoon played continuously in a very high range, so that it barely sounds like a bassoon. It ends in a frenzied dance to the death of the sacrificial "chosen one." In between is the full range of musical sounds, dynamics and emotions written as only Stravinky could or would.
The woodwinds had a field day early in Part One as they dominated play. The low strings (basses, cellos, and violas) bowed in precise unison, often with locomotive-like sound. Sliding bows produced unique tones from violins.
At times, the whole orchestra sounded like one great percussion instrument.
Shrill and sometimes dissonant brass and winds seemed to play most of the themes, while strings and percussion accompanied.
I imagined that the orchestra and conductor really enjoyed playing this work. It was an amazing performance, visually as well as aurally, and a stark contrast to the Beethoven and Frazelle.
SCC music professor Timothy Haley gave an excellent pre-concert lecture in the PHS band room, and he will continue these presentations before each concert.
Do yourselves a favor and be there at 7 p.m. for future concerts.
Don Delauter is a retired USAF brigadier general and classical music enthusiast living in Whispering Pines.
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