Orchestral Music Review Print



A Birthing, A Dead Steinway and The Works

October 19, 2001 - Raleigh, NC:


There were intricate and multiple connections and senses of family present at the birthing of a new composition, "Four Scenes for Flute and Orchestra," by Terry Mizesko, which had its world premiere during the October 19 concert of the North Carolina Symphony in Meymandi Hall. The composer is a long-time member of the trombone section of the orchestra who has frequently done orchestrations for the NCS and increasingly has moved toward more original compositions. The dedicatee and soloist, Anne Whaley Laney, the orchestra's Principal Flute, is returning from a sabbatical taken for the birth of a child. Her husband, who commissioned the piece, wanted a work that would reflect family life from the perspective of a wife. Another requirement was that there be a significant part for their friend, Anita Burroughs-Price, the orchestra's harpist. Composer Mizesko's pre-concert presentation included tapes of the important themes, explanations of his approach to the composition, and discussion of some of the difficulties that delayed both its creation and performance. His remarks were of more use than is often the case.

"Four Scenes" is in four movements: Awakenings; Busy Days, Hectic Times; Toddler's Dance; and Lullaby and Reflections. Much of the work has its origin in the four notes played at the start by the solo flute. Soft " pp " stirrings with delicate wind chimes, harp and violins follow and spread to the lower strings. The music of this movement is meant to suggest the changes that a woman experiences from conception to birth. Throbbing double basses open the second movement and are joined quickly by an agitated violin figure and fast pizzicatos, light percussion, tart woodwinds and fast flute runs that convey the tension of a modern woman's life--trying to be both a home-maker and a professional. The irregular lurching and lumbering rhythm of the third movement delineates a child's first steps. The harp along with long, slow string bowings ushers in the solo flute for a wistful, reflective and perhaps bittersweet last movement. An extra-soft section for flute and harp was marvelous. Conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann and the orchestra gave the composer everything for which he could have wished. The work is a fine addition to the repertory for flute and harp and more than an occasional piece.

Unlike the piano concertos of Chopin and Liszt, Mendelssohn's First Piano Concerto, in G Minor, Op. 25, has not had many local performances. Friday night's guest soloist, Anne Marie McDermott, has long been a favorite pianist of the younger generation. I first heard her during several seasons of the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in Charleston, S.C., where she frequently played the Dock Street Theatre's Hamburg Steinway as part of the popular chamber music series and was a hit with the "regulars." Her New York appearances as soloist and chamber musician have been well received by all three New York Times critics and I have been in general agreement with the qualities that they have praised. In the past she hasappeared at least twice as a soloist with the N.C. Symphony and made a number of area appearances as a chamber musician, most recently with the piano quartet Opus One. I have never found her playing dull.

Between Thursday and Saturday of this week I heard three different Steinway pianos. Alas, the one with which McDermott was stuck on Friday night sounded dead and dull in its low range at forte and above. Despite her leonine attack for the thundering quadruple octaves at the beginning, the resulting sound was dull and impotent. With lower dynamic ranges, McDermott's poetic touch had a better chance to come out. Zimmermann balanced the orchestra well and kept up with his fleet soloist. Post-concert discussions turned up the rumor that, after an appearance here, Ruth Laredo suggested that the best thing that could be done with the piano would be to burn it. The one used by McDermott might not have been the same instrument, but I won't disagree.

Many music lovers first came to classical music through the side door or back door of soundtracks to cartoons or movies. Of the latter, Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey was among the most influential. From Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra," Op. 30, he used the opening simple rising motive of C-G-C to accompany the opening and closing minutes. This, combined with improved stereo recordings, hooked many people who often moved on to explore a wider range of compositions.

On June 30 of this year, Zimmermann led an Eastern Music Festival concert that ended with this Strauss tone poem - the review is in our archives - and Friday's Meymandi performance was cut from the same cloth. In Greensboro and again in Raleigh, Zimmermann led a simply magnificent performance in which the musicians gave him everything he asked for, in spades. There was strong solo work in every section, and he avoided any hint of sentimentality. The new hall allowed for much greater exploitation of quiet playing, and Raleigh's canned organ was much more effective. The orchestra was filled out with a number of extra musicians. Concertmaster Brian Reagin was superb in his numerous solos as was principal cellist Bonnie Thron. Splendid solos were also had from oboist Michael Schultz, clarinetist Jimmy Gilmore and bassoonist John Pederson. All the brass were in rare form.

In my review of the NCS' October 6th concert, I expressed some reservations about the sound of the lower strings, and again this time I definitely found that a lot of the richer sound of the violas, cellos and double basses isn't making it into the hall. A music lover who sat against the wall in the left orchestra section had trouble hearing the violas and perceived the second violins as individuals instead of as a section. The hall and orchestra seating still needs attention. At least the brasses no longer turn the strings into mimes.