The University of North Carolina School of the Arts student orchestra under the direction of guest conductor, James Allbritten, played its opening concert in the beautiful Joan Hanes Hall of the Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem. Allbritten, director of the Fletcher Opera Institute at UNCSA, replaced itinerant music director, Ransom Wilson, for this concert. Wilson will return to conduct the orchestra on November 14 & 15 in Crawford Hall.
College senior, flutist Erika Boysen, a native of Iowa, played the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra by the 20th Century French composer, Jacques Ibert. Charming and effervescent, but musically a bit vapid, this concerto presents one roller-coaster after another, with difficulties galore, which Ms. Boysen tossed off as though quaffing champagne, especially in the third movement, where the only mishap was the penetrating sound of sirens from the street outside just as she launched into the brilliant solo cadenza. Ms. Boysen has a warm and vibrant tone, a supple ease with even the most difficult passages, and remarkable breath control. In contrast to the racy first movement and bubbling third movement, the second movement, Andante, seemed to meander in melodic murkiness, drifting rudderless.
The pleasant and rarely heard “Fair Melusina” Overture, Op. 32, by Felix Mendelssohn opened the evening. The large string section occasionally overpowered the more delicate passages of the woodwinds. Intonation improved much as the concert progressed, but had its bad moments in the overture, a flat flute and imperfect octaves and unisons in the trumpets, which persisted throughout the concert.
The entire second half of the concert consisted of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, Op.88 in G, certainly one of the most played works in the repertory – this reviewer has heard four live performances of it in just over a year! But it is charming, with a most delightful Scherzo and Trio and a properly bombastic end. The large student orchestra, led by Brian Ford, concertmaster, played the score with verve and schwung, swaying to the infectious rhythms. Special mention goes for outstanding solos by Ford, James Miller, flute, Allison Bates, clarinet, and the entire horn section.
I am a bit confounded by the absence of shape in such a well-executed concert: all attacks were together and loud passages were almost always well-balanced and well-played. True, there were few very soft passages, and none that make you lean forward and shiver. But all the forte attacks were the same, and the music between them often uneventful. It was as though the musicians were following a treasure map without a treasure.
Each movement has one point of maximum tension (climax), the treasure we seek, and the map that leads to that treasure provides an escape, too. And there is one greatest treasure, sometimes in the first movement, sometimes in the second, occasionally in the Finale (or even in the Adagio/Andante slow movements, especially when the 2nd and 3rd movements change places).
Please don’t misunderstand; James Allbritten is an excellent musician with a fine technique and a temperament well-suited to the role of “Maestro!” I have often been amazed by his command of choral works where he excels in garnering the forces for the high point of the piece. So I am at a loss to understand how this knowledge of form and meaning wasn’t apparent in the playing of the orchestra.
Perhaps the vim and vigor of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm pulls the musical cart roughshod over Treasure Island!