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Even two thirds full, Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University holds more audience than any other hall in this City of Arts and Innovation. So when the Winston-Salem Symphony moved its side-by side concert pairing with the Winston-Salem Youth Symphony to the Demon-Deacon campus, in partnership with the university’s Institute for Public Engagement, making it free to the public and calling it “Concert for Community," it knew what it was doing. The stage had to be extended an extra ten feet to accommodate 77 string players and another 50-odd wind, brass, percussion and keyboard players. The large ensemble opened and closed the concert with substantial pieces but was pared down to the Winston-Salem Symphony only to accompany this year’s winners of Winston-Salem Symphony’s Youth Talent Search.
Started in 1986, the Youth Talent Search has yielded winners such as Lisa Kim, now a principal violinist with the New York Philharmonic, Ryu Goto, a 23-year-old rising super-star violinist, and North Carolina’s own Stefani Collins. Judging from their performances at Wait Chapel, this year’s winners, both pianists, may also one day become super-stars.
Winner of the younger division (8-12 years old), Kevin Xu, a fifth-grader from Cary, NC, played the first movement of one of Mozart’s best known piano concertos, No. 23 in A. Gifted with a sense of poetry as well as a sure technique, Mr. Xu’s playing was delicate yet robust enough to withstand a somewhat loud and pedestrian orchestral accompaniment.
The winner of the senior division, Chambers Loomis, 18, from Ashville, NC, played the daunting Concerto No. 1 in E-flat by Franz Liszt. This is virtuoso writing and Mr. Loomis carried it off with brilliant style and flair. Unfortunately, the presenters limited him to the last movement of the concerto, doing away with what he excels at, the soft and dreamy middle section of the 18-minute concerto, which I was privileged to hear him play twice. Although Mr. Loomis plans to major in physics (as did Ryu Goto at Harvard), with the right breaks, he could have a fulfilling career as concert pianist.
The concert opened with a performance of the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten, played by the massed orchestras and conducted by Matthew Troy, the conductor of the Winston-Salem Youth Symphony and Associate Conductor of the Winston-Salem Symphony. The first interlude, "Dawn," pitted the very high strings and flutes, in excellent intonation, against the full-sounding low brass. Lush string sound was featured in the second, "Sunday Morning," and pulsating syncopations deep in the strings characterized the third interlude, "Moonlight." The fourth interlude, "Storm" lives up to its name providing a powerful conclusion in contrast to the otherwise ambiguous endings of the other movements. Conductor Troy, tall and standing legs askew, is a no-nonsense conductor whose over-riding concern appears to be clarity. And it works because the performance of the 131 musicians on stage was clean, crisp and well-nuanced.
Winston-Salem Symphony music director Robert Moody closed the concert with a lusty performance of Zoltán Kodály’s Suite from Háry János, but not before amusingly situating the movements in the context of the original opera about an old soldier prone to exaggerate his exploits in life. Again, the massed ensemble rose to the occasion, delivering waves of sound which filled the cavernous chapel, much to the delight of the large crowd of parents, siblings and music-lovers in general. Only in the third and longest of the six movements, "Song," could one have wished for more expression and rubato.
Announcements were made before the concerto section of the concert, but were drowned out by a crew of very noisy stage hands, dropping and sliding chairs, unaware of both audience and speakers.