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Two of the three B's were featured in this concert in Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium on the campus of the Brevard Music Center. Maestro Keith Lockhart, BMC's Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, led the Brevard Music Center Orchestra in exquisite performances of two of the great works of the nineteenth century, Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, Op. 68 ("Pastoral"), and Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, Op. 83, with soloist Garrick Ohlsson. The performance was recorded for broadcast by stations WCQS and WDAV.
The Brevard Music Center is a happening place in the summer, simply hopping with activity and the kind of high energy generated by bringing together some of the best artist/teachers in the nation, internationally-recognized featured soloists, and a sizable cadre of young talents. And there's much to love about going there – the scenery is gorgeous, the atmosphere is welcoming and festive, and there is, of course, the great reward of hearing some of the finest music-making in the nation. Garrick Ohlsson, one of the great interpreters of 19th-century piano literature, did not disappoint in his performance of Brahms' colossal concerto, nor did the Brevard Music Center Orchestra, with concertmaster William Preucil. Preucil is a strong and demonstrative leader, the kind of player who gives clear "instructions" to his section via body gestures, and the resulting ensemble was remarkable.
The program opened with Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony. Lockhart chose to make some remarks about the importance of the piece, and the tone and cadence of his voice suggested to me that he was fatigued. If he indeed was, it didn't show in his conducting, ever exuberant and efficient. The opening notes of movement one were stunning in their color and their effective characterization of "pleasant feelings which awaken in men on arriving in the countryside." The orchestral sound was gorgeous, mellow and well balanced and surprisingly elegant for an ensemble that size. One of Lockhart's fortes is his command of the flow of energy, choosing the correct tempi and from there allowing the music an organic freedom of ebb and flow in just the right places. Constantly emerging from the ensemble were the wonderful sounds of the principal players, who charmed us through a kaleidoscope of natural images – birds, flowing streams, a thunderstorm, and its aftermath. The audience responded with a standing ovation.
After intermission came the Brahms concerto, composed between 1878 and 1881 with the composer himself performing as soloist in Budapest. In a classic understatement, Brahms referred to this as a "tiny, tiny concerto with a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo." What it really is is a combination of piano concerto, in symphonic heft and scope, with elements of chamber music thrown in. The opening Allegro non troppo starts with a horn call answered by the piano's rolling figures, calm to begin with, but growing to explosive dramatic statements shortly afterward. Ohlsson is a commanding presence at the piano, with enormous stamina and consummate technical prowess, capabilities that are clearly needed to perform Brahms' massive textures. He also possesses the finest calibrated musicality, so he was able to project an air of chamber music-like intimacy in the quieter passages (notably the third movement). The orchestral balance was superb throughout, with kudos to principal hornist (Richard Deane and cellist (Jonathan Spitz) for their breathtaking solo parts. It was a stunning performance by any measure.
The standing ovation for the Brahms brought Ohlsson back to the stage to perform Debussy's "Clair de lune" as an encore. On the heels of the massive Brahms concerto, Ohlsson's exquisitely and delicately nuanced interpretation of this short favorite (performed incidentally under the sway of the full moon) moved me greatly and served as a wondrous benediction to this fine concert.
The festival continues through August 3. For details, see our calendar.