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Another testament to the outstanding musicianship of the Eastern Music Festival students was on display Friday night. The three winners of the Young Artists Concerto Competition were 17-year old Daniel Taubenheim in Tomasi’s Trumpet Concerto, 20-year old Jason Spencer in Manevich’s Clarinet Concerto, and 19-year old Jeong Eun Choe in Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto.
Henri Tomasi (France, 1901-1971) wrote his most popular work, the Trumpet Concerto, in 1948. The piece begins with an exclamation mark from the orchestra that launches the trumpet into a series of fanfares. Much of the movement is more heraldic than lyric, with spicy rhythms and epic orchestration. Throughout Taubenheim displayed mastery over the technically challenging score. Some of the interesting moments involved the use of a couple of types of mutes and a cadenza that is accompanied by the snare drum. When moments of melody came around, Taubenheim made the most of them.
Alexander Manevich (Russia, b. 1908) penned the Clarinet Concerto in 1955. The first movement is primarily impertinent in character, frolicking and carefree with a more mellow middle section. Spencer’s rhythmically vital playing packed a lot of punch and was well suited to the needs of the score. Often the soloist was joined in duet with others from the orchestra — English horn and flute. Spencer did a fine job with the cadenza leading into the dance-like section that concluded the scant 10-minute work.
Sergei Prokofiev (Russia, 1891-1953) finished his Third Piano Concerto in the early 1920s in Paris. It is a work that starts deceptively with a soft choir of clarinets before the pianist is thrown head-long into a whirlwind of energy. Much of the score revels in the dark humor for which Prokofiev’s music is justly famous. Choe’s sparkling playing caught the mood just right, although one could have asked for a bit better balance between orchestra and piano occasionally. The animated pianist seemed to thoroughly enjoy the sassy wit of the music.
Chelsea Tipton II kept a pretty tight rein on the Guilford Symphony Orchestra in these three works, making sure that soloists and symphony worked together as a unit. His clean direction made for good ensemble.
The Eastern Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of José-Luis Novo, took the stage after intermission, launching into a spirited reading of a Suite from El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) by Manuel De Falla (Spain, 1876-1946). The three dances that comprise this work are SO Spanish that one cannot but feel the Iberian pulse. Novo’s animated style fit the character of the music perfectly, and the performance was distinguished by its bright colors and infectious rhythms.
The evening concluded with Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (“Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks) by Richard Strauss (Germany, 1864-1949). This tone poem tells the story of a prankster famous in German folklore, and one can easily hear the venial misdeeds perpetrated by Eulenspiegel. The ESO powerfully played the score, which is rich in wonderful writing for winds and brass. Whatever was lacking in precision was made up for by energy. Once again, Novo showed his close connection with the music and the music makers with lively and well-defined leadership.
Immediately after intermission student awards were presented by James Giles for the pianists and by Novo for the orchestral players. These prizes consist of special recognition as well as scholarship money for several students to be used next season. Since one of the distinguishing features of the Eastern Music Festival is its focus on teaching and student performance, it is important to recognize the most deserving of these young musicians. With these scholarship monies and others, the EMF can help guarantee the successful recruitment of talented students who make such impressive music year after year. We can already begin to look forward to the next batch of fine musicians who will make up the 2010 student population.