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Eastern Music Festival 2002: First Weekly Overview

July 8, 2002 - Greensboro, NC:


A good house was on hand for an unusually heterogeneous Eastern Chamber Players concert on July 2 in Dana Auditorium on the Guilford College Campus. Tuesdays have always been the nights when EMF faculty, frequently joined by guest soloists, play diverse forms of chamber music. Both halves of the program had High Point native James Giles as pianist. The opening half featured Giles in a mini-Liszt recital. Most of Liszt's late music eschews display and exhibits cutting-edge harmonic experiments. "Nuages gris" from 1881 amazingly foreshadows the impressionism of Debussy (who admired it). Giles' subtle use of pedals helped weave a chiaroscuro image in sound. He brought out the episodic story-telling quality of the Ballade No. 2 in B Minor, composed a few months after the epic Sonata. Fragments from Gounod's Faust were transformed and woven into the Waltz. A good standard interpretation of Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A Major ended the program. With the piano lid fully up, Giles perfectly balanced his sound with that of his colleagues. Both the viola of Diane Phoenix-Neal and cello of Beth Vanderborgh were unusually full and rich. Leader John Fadial's sweet violin was nicely matched by Courtney LeBauer. The rhythms were well managed and the pizzicatos and dynamics were imaginatively varied.

Fascinated audience members filled the stage at intermission and after the concert at the July 5 Steinway Piano Gala. The focus of eager attention was a one-of-a-kind bright green Steinway grand that was decorated by glass master Dale Chihuly. Created for the Olympics, multicolored glass had been inlaid in the piano lid, which had abstract cut-outs allowing a stained-glass effect. The normally-white keys were orange and the raised, black keys were yellow. The soundboard was dark blue with yellow hammers.

Long the touring program of the festival, the mostly two-piano program was scheduled to be repeated July 8 in McCrary Theatre at Elon University. Piano faculty members Jennifer Hayghe and James Giles brought great rhythmic verve to Dave Brubeck's Prelude and Rag from Points on Jazz . Sevgi Kurtoglu joined Giles for Ned Rorem's song-like Six Variations for Two Pianos. The third variation, "Spiky Waltz," fast with piercing treble, and the fifth, "Veiled Monotone," reminiscent of French Impressionism, were memorable. The scoring of linking transitions between well-known songs in Percy Grainger's Fantasy on Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was striking. Pianist Gideon Rubin joined Hayghe in a medley of all the best-known songs including the choral line that begins "Clara...," "Summertime," the vendors' songs, "I got plenty of nothin'," etc. After intermission, Hayghe conjured great waves of sound as well as a singing line in Billy Joel's "Fantasy (Film Noir)." With piano writing sometimes evoking Grieg and Rachmaninoff, it would have been easy to believe the music was for a gritty movie. Precise rhythms and richly-varied dynamics of Giles and Rubin made for a winning reading of the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein's West Side Story.

Counting earlier appearances with the Greensboro Symphony, the July 6 concert with the professional Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra was the third Triad appearance for violin virtuoso Elmar Oliveira. He remains the first and only American violinist to have won the Gold Medal at Moscow's Tchaikovsky International Competition. He brought spectacular technique and flawless intonation to the full five movements of Lalo's Symphonie espangnole. His rich tone featured a broad prismatic palette with stunning double stops and a remarkable variety of bowings. Conductor David Lockington had impressed when he had guest conducted the North Carolina Symphony in October 2000, leading a program featuring Vaughan-Williams' Eighth Symphony, and all the virtues noted then were again in evidence. Great care had been paid to phrasing, there was remarkable unanimity within sections of the orchestra, and the woodwinds were excellent, but there was too little true piano playing and the dynamics were much too loud for the above-average acoustics of Dana Auditorium. Loudness was perhaps more appropriate to the brilliant scoring of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique that ended the concert. Again, exemplary care had been lavished on phrasing and attention was paid to the composer's abrupt changes of line and tempo. It was hard to believe that the wonderfully rich cello sound was being produced by only eight players. The violins had a fine sheen and the brasses and woodwinds were excellent. In the second movement, English horn player Terry Maskin "serenaded" the oboe from off stage. With percussion and especially bass drums struck close to the edge of distortion, I had never heard a louder or more terrifying "March to the Scaffold." Lockington's interpretation emphasized the Dionysian over the classical aspects of the Berlioz. Brass players and percussion only took part in the opening "An American Fanfare" by Adolphus Hailstork. Composed to celebrate the opening of a wing of the art museum in Richmond, the music rose above the usual "piece d'occasion" level.

Recordings by EMF faculty are being sold in the Dana Auditorium lobby throughout the Festival, and hard-to-find recordings by Elmar Oliveira were available on the night of the performance; the violinist autographed programs and CDs at intermission. While a few of his recordings are still available on major labels, his most recent ones are on the Artek label (online at http://www.artekrecordings.com/ [inactive 7/05]). Oliveira performs on an instrument known as the "Stretton," made in 1729-30 by Giuseppe Guarnei del Gesù, and on an exact copy of that violin made by Curtain and Alf in 1993.