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"Young at Heart with Midori" was the theme of the special five day residency of the noted violin virtuoso that culminated the Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestra's sixtieth anniversary season. Midori has founded three non-profit foundations to promote musical education for underprivileged children and musical outreach to people not otherwise involved with the arts. Having found these organizations’ charters too restrictive, Midori has added two annual special "projects" that are intended to promote closer ties between local youth orchestras and professional orchestras. An immediate result of the acceptance of Winston-Salem's proposal has been formalizing and upgrading of the local organizations ties.
"Youth" and music education were reflected in three of the four selections on Music Director Robert Moody's eclectic program. Every orchestra section and every principal player was given a chance to shine in Benjamin Britten's delightful and witty "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra." Moody wisely dispensed with the spoken narration and used well-timed and succinct projected texts that identified featured sections or instruments. The work commemorated the 250th anniversary of Henry Purcell's death. The theme Britten used for his brilliant set of variations and fugue is taken from a dance in Purcell's incidental music for a play called Abdelazar, or the Moor's Revenge. Moody's musicians played with an edge-of-the-seat intensity, with lock-step ensemble, and strong characterization of solo parts.
"Youth" had its day in J.S. Bach's Concerto in D Minor, S.1043, for two violins. Midori's performance of the first violin part was a model of restrained baroque style, with immaculate intonation and straightforward phrasing. For this concert and its May 22 repeat, the second violin part was taken by Ana Calles, a member of the senior class of 2007 at West Forsyth High School and the current Concertmaster of the Winston-Salem Youth Symphony. After a very few pinched notes, no doubt due to jitters, she settled into a fine performance in which she shared in the give-and-take between Midori and the greatly reduced string orchestra. Calles played a violin made by local luthier Brian Newman. The unamplified harpsichord continuo was easily audible in the upper balcony. (The May 19 concert featured Katherine Mount, a tenth grader at the North Carolina School of the Arts.)
In a fascinating post-concert session with both soloists and Moody, Midori stressed her interest in spreading the love of music, not fostering more professional musicians. Calles plans to double major in pre-med and music at Wake Forest University. Moody emphasized that his first encounter with music was as part of a strong music program in the Greenville, SC, public schools.
The performance of each of the five movements of Ravel's Ma Mère l'oye (Mother Goose) Suite was preceded by relatively brief spoken French and English prefaces for the story. The mixing of spoken words and music badly breaks the continuity and mood of the piece. Projected texts would have been better. Moody's interpretation of the Suite was exceptional as he secured a beautifully-judged French orchestral timbre. Ensemble was tight and dynamics were very subtly judged. Concertmaster Corine Brouwer and Principal Oboe John Ellis gave fine solos.
The only serious flaw in this concert was the failure to announce from the stage or via a program insert that Midori would play Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26, instead of Barber's Violin Concerto. Music addicts and critics get more than their fill of perfunctory performances of the Bruch by firebrands, fresh out of the conservatory, who too often play it as fast as possible while getting in all the notes. While Midori's quiver of technique lacks for nothing, her interpretation concentrated on bringing out all of Bruch's deep strain of Romanticism. Her quiet playing was simply magical, and her musical line was seamless. Moody's accompaniment fit like kid gloves, and Midori listened to her orchestral colleagues like a chamber musician. It was as though a masterpiece had been cleaned of ages of grime or bad performance practice. She produced a fine, rich tone from her 1734 Guarnerius del Gesu "ex-Huberman" violin, on lifetime loan from the Hayashibara Foundation.
Extensive pre-concert remarks by Moody drew attention to the extraordinary longevity of the majority of the orchestra's musicians. Two long-time principal players who left the orchestra last summer, cellist Charles Medlin and percussionist Massie Johnson, were honored, as were current Principal Viola Sally Peck and Principal Double Bass Lynn Peters, who are retiring at the end of this season. (Peck's recording of Vaughan-Williams' Flos Campi is still available on the Vanguard label. She made many recordings while she was a member of the Utah Symphony.)