In a repeat performance of their previous night's concert in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Asheville, the Asheville Symphony Orchestra's concert in the Brevard College Porter Center proved once again that they are among the best regional orchestras in the southeast. Under the dynamic direction of Maestro Daniel Meyer, the orchestra performed works by "3 Bs" — Bernstein's Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, Brahms' Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98, and Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26. The featured guest soloist was fourteen-year old violin prodigy Chad Hoopes, the twelfth young string artist from the Cleveland Institute to appear with the orchestra in as many years in the ongoing collaboration between the two organizations.
Opening the program were the dance episodes of Bernstein, whose 90th birthday was observed in previous ASO programming this year (Overture to Candide). Bernstein composed the Broadway show On the Town in 1944. This youthful work about three sailors on shore leave in New York City during wartime was refashioned by the composer into three orchestral concert works and premiered in 1946. The observation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, writers of the show's book and lyrics, that the music reflected the "poignancy of young people trying to cram a lifetime of experience into a day" is dead on. The three episodes careen rapid-fire through a bewildering array of expressive modes, by turns exuberant and soulful. The orchestra played as though energized by the various challenges in the score — its changeable metric intricacies, syncopations, jazz licks, and sultry trumpet, clarinet, and alto sax solos. Meyer danced/directed with precision and palpable joy.
Next on the program was the violin concerto by Max Bruch. Written in 1866, the piece was first performed with soloist Otto von Königslöw, and then revised by the composer according to the advice offered him by the famous violinist Joseph Joachim, who premiered the revised work in 1868. Joachim later praised the work highly, calling it "the richest and most enchanting" of the nineteenth century's four great violin concerti.
Young Chad Hoopes has already attracted the world's attention as winner of the First Junior Prize at the 2008 Menuhin Competition in Cardiff, Wales. He has appeared with major orchestras here (the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Pops) and abroad (Welsh National Orchestra, the Stavinger Norway Festival, and the Brussels Symphony Orchestra), as well as on television and radio. I was fortunate to catch the Friday Nov. 14 noontime interview with him and Meyer on NPR affiliate WCQS-FM and was impressed by the ease with which he spoke of his international comings and goings, including recording sessions. Chad studies with David Cerone, President of the Cleveland Institute of Music, and David Russell, and performs in a trio with his two sisters.
Knowing all of this beforehand, I still was unprepared for the performance he gave. The Bruch concerto affords an opportunity early on for the soloist to play an opening melody, totally exposed. With eyes closed and face fixed in total concentration, Hoopes' opening melody was ravishingly beautiful, and so carefully controlled there were gasps of astonishment around me. And so it went — throughout each of the three movements, this young artist exhibited a sure technique in service to each musical detail, an interpretive flair, and an innate musicality comparable to the highest adult standards. His fierce concentration extended to the orchestral excerpts as well, as he listened intently while swaying and nodding, eyes closed. The intermission was well placed, as one needed some time to ponder such a wonder.
After intermission came the richest of musical offerings, the Brahms Symphony No. 4. The history of the piece is well-known, and how Brahms worked with conductor Hans von Bülow to ensure a successful reception by touring with von Bülow 's orchestra as an "extra conductor." Although Brahms, like many composers, was intimidated by the symphonic precedents of Beethoven ("You have no idea how the likes of us feel when we hear the tramp of a giant like him beside us."), his last symphony hearkens back to historic models both tonally and formally, even in the use of theme and variations for the finale, like Beethoven's Symphony No. 3. The orchestral sound was huge, even overwhelming at times, with Meyer conducting in large, rounded gestures. Especially memorable were the second and fourth movements — the former due to the widest expressive range utilized, and the latter due to its sheer majesty. In the finale, a passacaglia consisting of a short theme and 30 variations without a key change, Meyer directed our attention to the work's larger, overarching phrases and formal divisions, facilitating a hearing of the music's grandeur without the distraction of all the notes.