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An overflow crowd was delighted to hear three of the most popular concertos ever written, performed by artist-faculty members of the North Carolina School of the Arts accompanied by the Carolina Chamber Symphony under the direction of its founder and former Music Director, Robert Franz. A Mozart's Birthday Concert has been an annual event for nearly 20 years at the NCSA and this year will stretch out for at least a season as musicians and audiences alike celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth.
It was a pleasure to welcome Franz back. He has always been an energetic conductor with a devoted following, especially with his hand-picked Carolina Chamber Symphony, which he founded a dozen years ago. About half of the orchestra's players are alumni of NCSA and all but two of the group of 24 play in the Winston-Salem or Greensboro Symphonies.
The January 29 concert in Crawford Auditorium began with a carefully-gauged and minutely-prepared execution of the Flute Concerto in G Major, K.313, by the extraordinary virtuoso and artist-faculty member, Tadeu Coelho. Featuring his own cadenza, Coelho was as fast and nimble as a hare. In the charming slow movement, notable for the muted strings and for the only use of orchestral flutes in the whole concert, he was suave and delicate, especially in those remarkable moments where three flutes played together. He was rewarded with a standing ovation.
The Violin Concerto in A Major, K.219, is probably the most-performed of Mozart's half dozen violin concertos, and it is always a pleasure to hear it. From the opening orchestral tutti (where exceptionally, the violins don't play the opening theme, saving it for the soloist) to the end of the last movement, the concerto was sheer delight. Beating Maestro Franz to the punch several times, Kevin Lawrence was a musically satisfying performer, saving the best until last – the foot-stomping "Turkish" music, which interrupts the staid minuet in the last movement.
Whereas most soloists with orchestras spend their waking hours with their instruments in hand, practicing and learning new scores, faculty members at universities and conservatories devote all their time to their students – even on weekends! Sixteen-hour days are the norm, not the exception! So it is doubly satisfying to see the artist-faculty members of NCSA perform on stage, setting examples for their students. And the students are loyal and devoted to their teachers, as one could see by their cheers and enthusiasm at this concert.
The concert closed with the Concerto for Two Pianos in E Flat, K.365, played by Allison Gagnon and Eric Larsen. Both soloists played Mozart with what the French call "une belle touche," a delicate touch. The two pianos play in a constant conversation, often repeating each other. (It would be interesting to arrange the concerto for one pianist, given the rareness of both pianos playing together!) There were sublime passages, often during the rare incursions into minor keys. The hushed Andante featured some beautiful oboe duets (Cara Fish and Mark Biggam), and the final Rondo, several well executed cadenzas. Responding to lengthy applause at the end, the soloists encored the last lengthy cadenza, with a twist – incorporating the tune of "Happy Birthday" into it, much to the amusement and delight of the audience.