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The Brevard Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Donald Portnoy took the stage of the Porter Center at Brevard College with a full agenda — the observance of Gian Carlo Menotti’s 100th birthday with The Telephone (L’Amour A Trois) featuring soprano Diana Amos and bass-baritone Jacob Will; a performance of John Corigliano’s “Red Violin” Concerto with soloist Michael Ludwig; and the honoring of one of their own, Maestra Virginia Tillotson who conducted the orchestra from 1980-2001. Sponsors for the concert were Dr. and Mrs. James Robertson.
Virginia Tillotson was the orchestra’s second conductor after its founder, Jackson Parkhurst, left for opportunities with the North Carolina Symphony. Ginny was a gifted conductor and arranger and brought many distinguished artists to solo with the group. She always encouraged the local players and many were featured soloists as well. She is known for her musicality and rapier wit, the latter much in evidence as she made her remarks to the audience.
Active as a soloist, recording artist and chamber musician, Michael Ludwig has served as concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic since 2006. He is the only artist other than Joshua Bell to have recorded the Corigliano Red Violin Concerto, now on the Naxos label with JoAnn Falletta. Both vocal soloists have had active performance careers here and abroad. Ms. Amos is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and received a vocal performance diploma from the Hochschule fur Musik in Cologne, Germany. A native of Hartsville, South Carolina, Mr. Will attended Furman University and graduated from the University of South Carolina and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He is Associate Professor of Voice in the School of Music at the University of South Carolina.
The concert program was changed to open with Franz Schubert’s Overture to Rosamunde, D. 644, a piece with a complicated performance history. It was originally composed as part of an earlier set of incidental music for Georg Ernst von Hofmann's play Die Zauberharfe ("The Magic Harp"), and was first performed in 1820, well before Schubert decided to use it as an overture to Helmina von Chézy's play Rosamunde. A staple of the orchestral repertory and the most famous piece to survive the opera, this lovely and lyrical work contained many lovely wind solos. Unfortunately, when the entire orchestra played (especially forte and above), the brass overwhelmed everyone else, an imbalance that persisted throughout the afternoon.
Next came the Corigliano Red Violin Concerto, an astonishing major work for the instrument that had its genesis in the film directed by Francois Girard. This was the composer’s third film score and his first violin concerto, a piece he dedicated to the memory of his famous father, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for more than a quarter of a century. The piece is an outsized concerto — 4 movements instead of the usual 3. Its nearly 38 minutes of playing time are so concentrated with musical material that it sounds overly-infused with musical ideas and their development, and would take several hearings to digest all of its trajectories. Violinist Michael Ludwig did a herculean task of performing this difficult music with sound technical chops and consummate styling, and the orchestra gave a credible reading to this complex score. Kudos to the orchestra for taking on the challenge of preparing this piece and for engaging Ludwig who played it so impressively.
After intermission the stage was cleared and set simply with two chairs, a table and a telephone, the small orchestra relegated to a make-shift “pit” in front of the stage. Diana Amos (Lucy) and Jacob Will (Ben) were perfectly cast as the two lovers whose efforts to communicate keep getting interrupted by Lucy’s need to chatter on the phone. Finally the two actually have the conversation Ben’s been working toward the whole time (over the phone, of course), a proposal of marriage which is accepted as Lucy reminds him of her phone number. This light-hearted work was a perfect way to end a full afternoon.