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The final weekend of the Brevard Music Festival is a whirlwind of music and people. All the instrumental ensembles appear in concerts over the three days, and the season’s final opera has its last performances. Many parents of student musicians arrive to hear their progeny in action and to return them to their homes. Intense new friendships come to a point of separation, and young student musicians are left to ponder how a scant seven weeks in the mountains have changed their lives. For many, it is a maturing experience far beyond its calendar duration.
Artistic Director Keith Lockhart conducts all of Brevard Music Center’s ensembles every season: not just the BMC Orchestra (which is only two-thirds students and one-third faculty) but also the Brevard Sinfonia (college students) and the Brevard Concert Orchestra (high school student musicians). On Friday, August 2, in the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium, the Brevard Concert Orchestra gave its third concert of the season with Christine Lau as concertmaster and Maestro Lockhart on the podium.
The first half of the program was all Ralph Vaughan Williams. The English Folk Song Suite shows its origin as a work for military band (two marches with an intermezzo) that was later orchestrated. There is nothing complex about the structure, although some delightful folk tunes overlap in counterpoint in the third movement. The youthful ensemble handled the work earnestly and competently, although not with the precision that the BMC Orchestra would have displayed.
Tuba Concertos are rare (although my son did submit one as his doctoral dissertation in composition at Indiana University). The Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto is a late work of the English composer, and is intended, as any good concerto is, to highlight the flexibility and beauty of the solo instrument. The soloist was BMC faculty member Charles Villarrubia. His tone was his strongest point; the second movement Romanza was especially pleasing with passages where the theme is passed between strings and tuba, and other places where trombones and trumpets in low register provide counterpoint to the mellifluous tuba. Mr. Villarrubia had the agility required in the outer movements.
The second half was Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. This work has in it a number of prominent wind solos, notably the initial clarinet passage and the French horn entry early in the second movement. The young student principal players were unerring, and should take pride in mastering what can be nerve-wracking moments even for professionals. The four movements include the emotional second movement, a third-movement waltz (which reminds me of a sherbet used to clear the palate during a seven-course dinner) and the vigorous finale. I felt that the large orchestra, with woodwinds doubled and extra brass, acquitted itself with distinction.
My only disappointment in the Tchaikovsky was not with the Brevard Concert Orchestra, but with Keith Lockhart’s approach to the second movement. The marking is “Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza” which means “with some freedom.” Many years ago, after Polish-born conductor Jerzy Semkow led the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in one of the finest Tchaikovsky performances I ever heard, I told Semkow that he had uncovered for me Tchaikovsky’s intricate classical structures, a fact that can be obscured by romanticizing the passages. Semkow replied that Tchaikovsky himself had written (in Russian) a marginal note on one symphony’s score that warned against over-romanticizing. The message was to let the music speak for itself; the romanticism is already there in the notes and one does not need to stretch and pull in order to milk emotional reaction from the listener. Maestro Lockhart interpreted “con alcuna licenza” in a way that I believe Tchaikovsky was warning against, and this detracted from an otherwise fine interpretation.
The Whittington-Pfohl was filled to overflowing, and there were many patrons on the lawn. It didn’t rain. This was a concert that epitomizes what is fine about summer festivals in the mountains.