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On consecutive days the Eastern Music Festival has brought us two magnificent concertos by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky played by outstanding EMF faculty soloists: the First Piano Concerto on Thursday with Jon Nakamatsu and the Violin Concerto on Friday magnificently played by Jeffrey Multer. Completing Friday's program was a daring performance of the Fifth Symphony of Serge Prokofiev.
Soloist Jeffrey Multer is an alumnus of EMF and a long-time faculty member as well as the concertmaster of both the Eastern Music Festival Orchestra and the Florida Orchestra in Tampa. He stands tall, slender and aristocratic, but his tone is warm and earthy and his stage presence simple and humble. Not that he appears dispassionate about the Tchaikovsky concerto – indeed, an impish grin sometimes lights up his face as he crosses the line between soloist and orchestra to play along with the violins in the tuttis (those portions when the music is happening in the orchestra while the soloist takes a short breather).
Once declared "unplayable" by the legendary violinist and teacher, Leopold Auer, this concerto now figures in the repertory of all violin soloists. Various versions exist (usually excising the considerable repetitious material) but tonight's performance was uncut yet not in the least repetitious.
The first movement starts with a short orchestral introduction which does not introduce the first theme as one would expect, but slyly hints at it by playing only the rhythm of the first theme. Clever Tchaikovsky! The high point of the movement must certainly be the difficult cadenza which Multer "aced" before yielding to the orchestral flute which intoned the first theme beautifully. The movement ends with an ever speeding up coda (tail) to finish in a flurry.
The second movement is a lovely song with lavish embellishments played by the solo violin with a mute placed on the bridge. The entire movement, Canzonetta, is played muted. The effect is to soften and render the tone more tender and plaintive. A lovely dialogue with the principal clarinet and later the flute add interest to the ending of this intimate movement.
The sudden attack of the orchestra signals the start of the last movement, in a fast duple meter. The violin enters with a cadenza which quickly takes off in a sort of perpetual motion until the gypsy-like second theme. The student orchestra under the direction of Maestro José Luis Novo was well in control of the concerto at all times and attentive to playing "spot on together" with the soloist. It must be a thrill to be able to accompany one's own teacher in a concerto!
The second half of the program was devoted to the always difficult Symphony No. 5, Op. 100, of Serge Prokofiev. Written in the usual four movements, the symphony's first movement is expansive and only occasionally bursts into a fast tempo. The second movement is really a scherzo in a march meter and thrilling in its own right. The brass (especially 2nd and 3rd trumpets) were especially crisp in the grotesque deconstruction of the theme leading up to the recapitulation (the reprise of the themes).
The third movement, an Adagio, is the most difficult part of the symphony to put together and to maintain control of, for conductor and orchestra alike. It also contains some of the most powerful climaxes Prokofiev ever wrote. Great demands are placed upon the strings by Prokofiev, himself a pianist. Occasionally these demands are unidiomatic and for the young string player, scary. And except for an occasional pitch problem, rapidly adjusted and corrected, the orchestra played this difficult movement exceedingly well.
The Finale, a jocular Allegro giocoso, starts sedately with a cello choir rendition of the first theme from the first movement, interrupted by the violas, always the activists, who start the motor revving - soon everyone joins in the fun. Maestro Novo is to be congratulated for stretching his young charges' minds and capabilities. Prokofiev must be learned to be enjoyed, and the orchestra did both, while entertaining and impressing the very large Dana Auditorium audience in the process. Bravo!