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Although I have attended numerous events presented by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music, Theatre and Dance, the excellent program by the Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kevin M. Geraldi at Aycock Auditorium was my first exposure to both the orchestra and the auditorium. The Aycock Auditorium, built in 1927, was a grand and glorious space for the time, expressing the prosperity of the state, and its cultural confidence in supporting the North Carolina College for Women, as it was known from 1919-1931. It was renovated at age fifty in 1976, and the most recent renovation, from 2008, just managed to sneak in before the maleficent effects of the Great Recession (the UNCG Magazine shows the beautiful results of the 2008 renovation. UNCG and North Carolina should be proud to have made such an investment in its culture and education.
The program of Wagner and Dvořák by the Symphony Orchestra demonstrated that the skills of the music students of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance are certainly on a par with the physical setting of the auditorium, with a large ensemble ranked across the stage of the Auditorium. The first half featured two numbers from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the Prelude and “Wahn, Wahn!” The Prelude is perhaps the most frequently excerpted selection by Wagner to be heard on its own in concert performance, making a grand and pompous (in the good sense) effect, conveying the solidity and respectability of the late medieval German burgers of the city of Nuremberg, with a scalar opening in C major that recalls the opening of a baroque suite (marked “Very moderate”). No Italian flash or French lightness here. From this point on, and throughout the evening, there were very few moments in which the listener might have been distracted from the musical discourse by a flaw or student wobble, and both winds (a particularly large group for the Wagner) and strings performed on a high level. Appearing as soloist for “Wahn! Wahn!” was bass Donald Hartmann of the UNCG faculty, a serious presence, and a skilled vocalist producing beautifully-shaped, deep, round tones, displaying a fine instrument, with a natural delivery and clear diction. This selection stands out from the usual operatic excerpts as it is neither romantic, nor dramatic, but rather philosophical, and quite extended, at that. More familiar, and more dramatic, was the music that closed the first half – "Wotan’s Farewell", and the "Magic Fire Music" from Die Walküre – more advanced, and more expressive, with Wotan kissing the divinity away from Brünnhilde, who will sleep on a crag, protected by a ring of fire. Wagner’s music depicts this moment with eerie chromatic descents in the orchestra, and it was heightened at this performance with deep red lighting on the stage – simple but effective. The performance was good enough to make one realize (if one hadn’t before) why Wagnerians make pilgrimages to hear these works.
The second half was devoted to the Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 by Dvořák, a relatively unknown work by the master (like all his symphonies but the “New World”), which received a highly effective performance throughout. The wind parts were played with assurance and clarity, and the strings were dramatic and incisive. The long (ten minutes) and complex narrative of the Poco Adagio was well-shaped by Geraldi, and the climaxes of the opening and closing movements beautifully done. All together, the program represented much hard work put in by the orchestra, and to very good effect. Bravo, UNCG!