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The Durham Symphony, under the baton of William Henry Curry, along with Young Artists Competition Winner, Colin Laursen, gave an outstanding concert, titled "Beethoven and Friends." The major work on the program was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony which was performed in the second half of the concert. The first half featured works by Dvořák, Chadwick, and Tchaikovsky.
Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances – eight of them published as Op. 46 and, later, eight more, published as Op. 72 – were modeled on Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and brought him his first widespread recognition as a composer. They are written in homage to the folk music of his native land; not actual folk melodies, but Dvořák’s own creations in the style and characteristic rhythms of Slavic folk music. Op. 46, No. 3, heard in this concert, employs two melodies in a-b-a-b-a-coda scheme. The first melody is simple and casual, the second theme is exuberant, and the piece ends in a thrilling coda. From the opening, it was apparent the orchestra was well prepared. Ensemble was firm, entrances were precise, and dynamic expressiveness was meaningful and persuasive.
The second selection was from American composer George Whitefield Chadwick’s Symphonic Sketches. “Hobgoblin” is a playful description of “That shrewd and knavish sprite [c]all'd Robin Goodfellow” as this quote from Shakespeare, printed in the score, makes specific. The music is very European in style and character, though a couple of the melodies used are from American popular or folk culture. The music, somewhat reminiscent of Paul Dukas’ "Sorcerer’s Apprentice," is playful, and it was given a precise and expressive reading by the Durham Symphony.
The soloist performing the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s well-known and popular Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35, was Colin Laursen, who has played violin since the age of three and is also pursuing an interest in composing. He has won several prizes and scholarships as a violinist and is a high school senior at UNC School of the Arts. He played the demanding work with confidence and authority; his control of technical demands was matched by his mature interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s captivating melodies. The audience was reluctant to let him go at intermission. The orchestra played with lyricism befitting Tchaikovsky and was an ideal partner for the soloist. As has been observed before, Curry is especially adept at leading orchestras in concerto settings.
After an intermission, the orchestra re-assembled and checked their tuning. Maestro Curry entered to enthusiastic applause. It had been an outstanding concert thus far. Curry turned toward the audience and spoke a few sentences about what Beethoven was going through when he wrote his Fifth Symphony. He spoke of his rage at the increasing deafness, his despair, and his decision to take fate by the throat and wrestle his own destiny out of the abilities that had been given him. Turning back to the orchestra the maestro lifted his baton; the orchestra was poised in readiness to play, and the audience was primed to hear. Then came that familiar four-note theme and the struggle with fate mounting ferociously 'til strong cadences bring it to a close – momentarily. A large portion of the audience burst into applause. Whether they were unaware that one does not interrupt a symphony with applause between movements or whether they felt they just had to express themselves at that point I do not know.
The orchestra conductor stood calmly, did not acknowledge the applause, waited for the orchestra to re-focus, then turned to the cellos and violas and began that gorgeous, confident, calming melody that starts the second movement. This is Beethoven’s resignation, his acceptance of the inevitable, and his commitment to press on. Again, at the end of the movement – applause, even though Curry held the baton high for several moments after the last note faded away.
There would be no applause after the stormy third movement since Beethoven had employed a new device in symphony composition; a bridge linking the struggle of the third movement to the incredible heroic victory of the fourth movement. The energy seemed to increase with every note, with every driving beat. It was something I have experienced before, but relatively rarely. There was palpable communication between orchestra and audience, between composer and conductor, between the ideal and the realization. Nothing got in the way of the music today. It all happened the way it is supposed to happen. What an awesome experience!