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Anyone arriving early in the Stevens Center for this program knew something was in the air – piccolo and saxophone players were rehearsing their well-known solos from Boléro, and the stage was unusually full of players warming up their instruments, fingers, and minds in anticipation of the peaks to scale.
Under the direction of music director Robert Moody, the Winston-Salem Symphony approached this Hispanic program with verve and passion. Works of three Spanish composers who each spent many years in Paris (Manuel de Falla, Joaquín Rodrigo, and Joaquín Turina) were featured, as well as their better known French colleague, Maurice Ravel, himself the author of more than half a dozen Spanish inspired works. (Ravel's mother was of Basque origin and had grown up in Madrid.)
The concert opened with de Falla's delightful second suite from the ballet, El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), last performed by the Symphony in May 2004 (along with Bolero and the Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo). Maestro Moody, always an energetic personality, was at his best, alternating abrupt (even ballistic) gestures with nonchalant postures as the rhythms and dynamics of the music changed. Intonation in the woodwinds was impeccable. and in the second movement, new Principal Horn Robert Campbell was powerful with an appropriate dose of arrogance.
Four young guitar soloists, three still students, and their mentor, Joseph Pecoraro, all from the UNC School of the Arts, graced the stage for the Rodrigo Concierto Andaluz, originally written for the legendary Romero family. Playing the demanding lead role, Pecoraro is a crisp, clean player with great technical mastery and nuanced tone. His young accomplices — Colin Fullerton, Ryan Layton, and Andrew Motten — were beguiling in the ostinato second movement and dazzling in the last.
This is not a very interesting concerto, especially the first movement; more's the pity, given the obvious talent of the soloists. Although the amplification was subtle and well placed, it still didn't prevent the virtuosic runs of Pecoraro in the first movement from being entirely hidden by violins and cellos. (Perhaps the full string section was a bit too large for such delicate instruments?) Anita Cirba's many trumpet solos enlivened the Finale. Fortunately, we were treated to an encore, also Spanish, for the quartet alone, "La Boda" ("Wedding"), by Federico Moreno Torroba, which made much use of the rhythmic pattern of successive 6/8 and 3/4 measures. It also allowed us another opportunity to hear these excellent guitarists!
The three short movements of Joaquín Turina's Danzas Fantásticas began the second half of the concert with a mysterious growl and a flourish reminiscent of the music of Paul Dukas ("Sorcerer's Apprentice"). An elegant syncopated slow movement followed, and the appropriately named "Orgía" ("Orgy") closed with "in your face" brass, a bit overpowering with their new seating facing the audience.
Although Bolero has always been a favorite of audiences, the work is distained by many professional musicians; I can speak from experience that it is a very difficult piece to rehearse in its entirety – it works better in select piecemeal segments, reserving a full run-through for the concert! Ravel himself described the piece as "... a masterpiece without any music...." although from a purely analytical point of view, it is a fascinating study in the accumulative effects of repetition and orchestration. A 2-bar rhythmic pattern (stoically played by percussion principal John Beck on a snare drum tuned to F sharp) is repeated over and over for the length of the piece, while two repeated 16-bar melodies of a Spanish flavor are played, each time adding more instruments, following generally the patterns of the overtone series. When attention can no longer be sustained, Ravel cleverly shortens the segments and surprisingly modulates up a third and then back to the original C major to end. Some fine playing came from every section of the orchestra. The audience greeted the end with cheers of approval.
We welcome back John Ellis, principal oboe, and thank Amanda Gerfin for the excellent job she did during his absence. The woodwind section has greatly benefitted by recent additions Anthony Taylor, clarinet, and Saxton Rose, bassoon.