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The ECU Symphony Orchestra, according to their Web site, “is open to music majors and to musicians who choose to major in other disciplines.” The program for this concert lists about 65 members. They were pretty much all on the Wright Auditorium stage for a power concert of, in the broadest sense, German Romantics, ranging from Beethoven through Brahms to Richard Strauss.
The orchestra was under the baton, for the opening piece, of Leonardo Perez, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a M.M. in Orchestral Conducting; I'd say unconditionally to go ahead and give him the degree. He acquitted himself in a totally professional way with Beethoven's Fidelio Overture, Op. 72, making the best bricks imaginable from the clay and straw he had been given. The strings were strong and once the winds warmed up, they did well also. The tempo was good. Perez held the orchestra together well through the numerous false-ending rests.
The orchestra, returning to the baton of its usual conductor Jorge Richter, was joined by ECU faculty member Bo Newsome, in Richard Strauss's Concerto for Oboe in D. Newsome is a powerful, accurate, and musical performer. His charming performance, insouciance and careful phrasing made something understandable out of Strauss's non-stop and mechanical doodle-doodle-doodle. Newsome was largely flawless and totally at ease. There were one or two places in the first movement, Allegro Moderato, that sounded like Richter was rushing. The Andante was more even and temperate. The Vivace was as artful in Newsome's hands as the other two movements. The playing was very smooth. Strauss never missed an opportunity to play it again – constant little repetitions of phrases. The soloist acknowledged the orchestra during the applause before he ever took his first bow, a warm and kindly action that seemed much more than a perfunctory gesture.
One nice thing to me about the Brahms “St. Anthony Variations,” Op. 56a, is the chance to hear the St. Anthony theme, which we are now told may not be by Haydn. Another nice thing is how beautifully it presents the strong skills of the ECU Orchestra. The very Germanic amount of work for the winds gives them a fair balance with the high strings; the low strings have more work to do than a waltz band. Their unwavering sound strode powerfully beneath all the fancy work of the variations. Richter handled his players well, using nuances of tempo and phrasing to clarify the styles and personalities of the eight variations. The Finale, especially in the opening phrases, filled the hall with marvelous rich orchestral tone.
The ECU Symphony Orchestra displays very seasoned and mature playing for so many young people. The concert was a delight, marred only by attempts by members of the audience to replicate the monkeys-typing-Shakespeare experiment, in this case trying to determine if a handful of monkeys with pocket digital cameras could produce one professional-quality photograph. The flashes were a strong distraction in the darkened hall.