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Flute soloists have a hard row to hoe: there's a sparse supply of flute concertos and only a very few of those can hold the average listener's attention. The three concertos of Mozart and the Nielsen are about it unless you can stomach the flute transcription of the Khachaturian Violin Concerto. The centerpiece of the October 12 matinee concert of the Winston-Salem Symphony in Stevens Center was the brilliant 1992 Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, Op. 39, of Lowell Liebermann. James Galway wanted the composer to orchestrate his popular Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 23 (1987) but he demurred, offering to compose a new concerto instead. Kudos to both! Too seldom do commissioned new works deserve to survive beyond their debuts, and this one is a real winner. Even the orchestration is imaginative and not just a background for a lovely flute part. Debra Reuter-Pivetta was the superb soloist, presenting a striking stage presence and bringing considerable flair to her part. Very subtle pizzicato strings and a muted trumpet serve as a brief prelude to the warmly melodic flute. Each string section takes up the flute's melody in turn. There are rapid passages for the flute and inventive scoring for woodwinds and horns. The jazzy writing for trumpets, often muted, was memorable, as were dialogues between the soloist and the clarinet and other woodwinds. The composer described the first movement's components as "variations on the harmonic progression of its principal theme (with) the central section... a set of explicit chaconne variations on a chorale version of this progression." After the Moderato first movement, the viola section, alone, strikingly supports the flute in the opening of the Adagio. The composer says "this lyrical (flute) melody... is spun out over a pulsating syncopated ostinato which persists (throughout)." The full strings take up the melody, and there is a brief violin solo, played on this occasion by Concertmistress Corine Brouwer. In describing the last movement, Presto, as "a virtuoso work-out" for the soloist, the composer verged upon understatement. Reuter-Pivetta displayed incredible breath control and agility, and the scoring for the orchestra, with unexpected solo combinations such as piano and trumpet, soloist and piccolo, and bassoon and contrabassoon, was piquant. Music Director Peter Perret kept the complex orchestral part together and meshed perfectly with the soloist.
The encore piece was a wonder to hear and to see. "Lookout" by Robert Dick was written as a high school competition piece and uses typical fare of teenagers: rock'n'roll and aspects of rock bands. Reuter-Pivetta used the keys alone to mimic percussion, sang into the mouthpiece, and utilized multiphonics, to name but a few of the unexpected techniques.
Currently a resident of Winston-Salem and Principal Flute of the Greensboro Symphony, Reuter-Pivetta was a student of Philip Dunigan at the N.C. School of the Arts. After a spell as second flute in the Winston-Salem Symphony, she went on to establish a successful international soloist career while teaching at Salem College and Guilford College. Her fine first CD was on sale in the lobby and did brisk business at intermission.
Alert and vital standard interpretations of Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony and Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 sandwiched the Liebermann and proved to be ideal companions. Orchestral balances in both were excellent as were rhythmic pulse and phrasing. The Principal Clarinet on this occasion was Christopher Grymes. Mark Popkin led the fine bassoon and contrabassoon section. The brass were unusually subtle, the horns gloriously brilliant without covering the orchestra and much of the trumpet playing was restrained. Perret acknowledged the many fine soloists whose superb musicianship made both symphonies so delightful.