Orchestral Music Review



EMF: Concerto Competition Winners - Two

August 1, 2008 - Greensboro, NC:


With its two concerto concerts, each with two orchestras, two conductors and a trio of stars in the making, the Eastern Music Festival draws to a close on the peaceful campus of Guilford College. Audiences are large and wildly enthusiastic as parents join the faithful patrons in the festival’s last concerts by the student orchestras. Chelsea Tipton II continued to impress as he led the Guilford Symphony Orchestra in the three works for soloist and orchestra which started this concert. He helped the young virtuosi to maintain the forms of the works they presented, combating the youthful tendency to “give it all away” too soon.

First came 17-year-old Holly Jenkens playing Ravel’s popular contribution to the violin repertory, "Tzigane" (Gypsy). Ms. Jenkens had previously played the "Tzigane" for Midori in a master class on July 4th. She played the very difficult solo section of the first half with confidence, exhibiting a passionately warm tone and near-perfect intonation. When the orchestra came in, her rendition of the variations was scintillating. A bit more scrupulous attention to the myriad of details Ravel meticulously wrote into the score would have made the performance even more riveting. Arthur Grumiaux, the late Belgian violin virtuoso, once remarked that whereas the popular "Zigeunerweisen" by Pablo Sarasate describes a young gypsy, "Tzigane" describes the recollections of a very old gypsy.

Next it was the turn of 16-year-old Hayato Tanaka from Tokyo to cast a spell over the audience with his sober yet exciting performance of Alexander Arutiunian’s Concerto for Trumpet in A flat Major (1950). This flashy concerto with its many allusions to Armenian folk tunes has become a staple of the trumpet repertory. Tanaka made the piece sound down right easy, which it certainly is not!  He plays with a clean tone, with an occasional hint of vibrato. The second movement was played with a muted soft tone and the third movement is largely a reprise of the faster sections of the first movement with an elaborate cadenza near the end. The cadenza was dazzling with its double-tongued rising scales leading to an ending in a shockingly different key.

Gershwin has been scheduled on many of the EMF concerts this season; Ms. Hana Huber (20, from Oakland, IL) chose to present us with the first movement of his lesser known Piano Concerto in F. Originally commissioned in 1925 by Walter Damrosch, conductor of the orchestra now known as the New York Philharmonic, the concerto was premiered that same year under the baton of Damrosch, with Gershwin himself as the soloist. Less picturesque and adhering more to the traditional concerto formula than its better known sister concerto, Rhapsody in Blue, the Concerto in F is a fusion of Gershwin’s bluesy jazz style with more than a dollop of French impressionism.

Ms. Huber played the technically difficult solo passages with uncanny accuracy and gave form to the seemingly endless parade of cabaret tunes that make up much of the movement. Her rhythm was precise and held together tightly with the syncopated whip (slapstick) in the percussion section. The audience roared its approval with another standing ovation.

The Eastern Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of faculty member, Jose-Luis Novo, closed the concert in high gear with Hindemith’s popular Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Marie von Weber, a warhorse of the first order. Unfortunately, the mixed meter percussion passage at the end of the Scherzo section was unconvincing and the final chord sloppy. Although I would have preferred a crisper and more rhythmically taut performance, the piece brought the concert to a very effective conclusion.