Orchestral Music Review



Peter Serkin & Michael Stern Join for a Special EMF Concert

July 23, 2005 - Greensboro, NC:


The repair of Dana Auditorium's air conditioning system was greeted with joy by the July 23 audience. The concert had long been sold out and was eagerly anticipated. The playing of the Mozart and Ravel were so extraordinary as to have been priceless. This was one of those special concert evenings when the performances became transcendent. Conductor Michael Stern's extensive experience as a conductor showed from the first downbeat for the Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra. Balances were perfect throughout, and instrumental entrances and important solos were exactly on the mark. Whether early or late Classical, impressionist, or 20th-century tonal, each work was interpreted with a fine sense of style, close attention to well-sprung rhythms, and refined timbral nuances. Both guest artists are the sons of famous musicians: Michael is the son of Isaac Stern, and pianist Peter Serkin is the son of Rudolf Serkin.

Rossini's Overture to La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) received a lively reading. The lock-step march of the opening served to accentuate the fiery allegro portion. The percussionists played the antiphonal snare drums to the hilt, and the principal bassoon, oboe, and piccolo made strongly-characterized contributions.

Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24, in c minor, K.491, is my favorite of the 25 works for single keyboard. I cannot imagine a better performance of the work than that given by Serkin, Stern, and the members of the all-faculty orchestra. The pianist was in his finest form, and he deployed his technical mastery in a probing exploration of the work's emotional and expressive depths. The close co-ordination between Serkin and the woodwinds in the second movement took us outside the mundane world. Time seemed suspended.

Stern's interpretation of Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oye Suite was masterful in every way. The muted fanfares and hushed dynamics of the opening helped suggest the world of fairies. The brief and elegant "Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty" led to "Hop o'my Thumb," with its sensuous and twisting melody played by Principal Oboe Eric Olson. Pentatonic elements evoked the Far East in "The Ugly Little Girl: Empress of the Pagodas." This section had a colorful dialogue between Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer, playing glittering high harmonics, and the bird-like chirpings of Les Roettges' flute. In "Conversations of Beauty and the Beast," the low growling of the contrabassoon portrayed the Beast while Beauty was represented by a simple little waltz. The ethereal world of the opening returned in the concluding "The Fairy Garden," which ended in a glowing apotheosis.

Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphoses on themes of Carl Maria von Weber" received a brilliant Technicolor reading by Stern and the orchestra. Percussion was given its head, and there wasn't anything inhibited about the playing. The horns, trumpets, and – especially – the trombones, were resplendent.