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The Greensboro Symphony's closing program, "Over the Edge," presented in Aycock Auditorium under the artistic leadership of Dmitri Sitkovetsky, was a satisfying end to a diverse season. The program will be repeated on May 16 in Aycock Auditorium.
Under the Maestro's leadership, the Greensboro Symphony has continued to grow, becoming more visible in its surrounding communities, playing in a wide array of venues, expanding educational concerts/programs, and mixing classical standards with rarely-performed pieces. The orchestra has based its current season on the hit AMC series Breaking Bad, somehow tying the popular drama about a chemistry teacher-turned-meth-dealer into classical music – and rather inventively, too.
"Over The Edge," the final offering of the season, programmed Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring as the highlight of the concert, occurring on its second half. The first half consisted of Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" and Sibelius's only concerto, his infamously difficult Violin Concerto, featuring Jinjoo Cho, winner of the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.
The "Prelude," a favorite opener for concerts, is pure Debussy; long, sweeping chords in the strings combined with soft trills from woodwinds create a landscape in which the imagination may run wild. Sitkovetsky's conducting of the piece allowed for exposed parts to be highlighted (in particular, a wonderful flute duet that occurs in the middle section), but his conducting of the opening flute solo hindered Debussy's freeness of expression.
The Sibelius concerto was the highlight of the evening. Cho, already displaying the early stages of a star in her onstage presence and playing, was captivating in her performance. This concerto was said to have been too difficult for the performer to learn before the premiere. As a result, Sibelius simplified it to what we hear today, but even so it is still a challenge for a violinist. Oftentimes the soloist and the orchestra did not line up precisely as the soloist seemed to get ahead of the orchestra during some of the more exciting sections. That said, this was not a major problem as Cho's playing was captivating throughout. She is an expressive artist who is sure to go far; in five years, her name may well be synonymous with the likes of Hillary Hahn and Joshua Bell (who, in a bit of totally coincidental programming, played this same concerto in Raleigh two days earlier).
Concluding the evening was the always-challenging Rite of Spring, a piece infamous for its history of audiences rioting at the premiere due to its wildly unorthodox musical inventions. Many know the piece from its segment in Fantasia, where the creation and destruction of the dinosaurs made for an entertaining and disturbing history lesson.
The orchestra performed Part 1, "Adoration of the Earth," with thrilling suspense in the sudden, surprising sections and delicately in the softer sections, although too often, in those softer sections, the tempi seem to lag. In Part 2, "The Sacrifice," the orchestra suffered from a lack of rhythmic unity. What did stand out were the incredible wind and brass sections, with Kelly Burke, clarinet, Debra Reuter-Pivetta, flute, and Carol L. Bernstorf, bassoon, in particular all delivering their solos with rhythmic perfection. The performance was memorable for its ability to bring this piece alive in all of its cacophonic glory.
What the Greensboro Symphony did with this challenging program is exactly what a symphony orchestra should do: something daring. Audiences adore this orchestra for bringing top-quality musicians like Cho to the Triad. This season, despite its dependence on familiar programming, the orchestra and Sitkovetsky have no doubt educated the audience while entertaining it. Those are the most rewarding things an arts organization can do to further its place in the community.
This program will be repeated on May 16 in Aycock Auditorium. For details, see the sidebar.