Anyone so fortunate as to have attended this presentation of the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association at NCSU’s Stewart Theater and the one three evenings earlier at Meredith College would be up to here in Mozartiana. The Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra presented “Magic Theater” with the first half of the program featuring the music of Mozart. The earlier Meredith Sinfonietta program was all Mozart. The “Magic Theater” aspect of the programming would become evident as the evening progressed.
Conductor Randolph Foy opened with the "Allegro con spirito" and the "Minuetto" movements of the familiar Symphony No. 35, (K385). The orchestra tackled the piece with an air of authority, sounding better and bigger than one might have thought those modest forces “should” sound. The first half later ended with the "Finale: Presto" movement from that same symphony.
Sandwiched in were three other Mozart works. The playful "Allegro moderato" from Symphony No. 29 (K201) rounded out the symphonic offerings. Two pieces for wind octet allowed those instruments to shine, Divertimento in C minor (K388) and Divertimento in E-flat (K375). In the former, the oboes were prominent and pleasing. The latter showed off the horns along with the oboes and a great oboe solo.
It would be difficult to imagine a more radical leap along the music spectrum, with the second half featuring composer George Rochberg (1918-2005). His Music for the Magic Theater was scored in three movements, or more specifically, Acts I, II, and III. A piano supplemented the orchestra for this dramatic work (with pianist Thomas Koch as a major actor in the drama). Foy pointed out that it would be hard to tell whether the players were hitting the right notes. From the start it was clear that he knew whereof he spoke. Throughout the piece various instruments were called upon to perform “unnatural” acts.
The Mozart connection became evident as Rochberg wove in quotations from that composer, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious. An example of the obvious was contained in Act II. Here a gorgeous quotation of several minutes “in which the past haunts us with its nostalgic beauty” (the composer’s explanation) placed the listener back a couple of centuries. The effect was that of an elaborate piano concerto. A bit of investigation revealed that it was based upon the Divertimento in B-flat (K287).
Such musical orthodoxy was present for only a minor part of the time among the otherworldly sounds. With this pairing, Foy has again created and exploited a truly teachable moment for music students young and old. His fine program notes were a valuable complement to one’s understanding. Did the players hit the correct notes? It’s likely that only the conductor and a few of his performers could say for sure.