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The annual concerto competition winners and scholarship benefit concert is a highlight of the concert season at the University of North Carolina. From the well-crafted program notes to the thrilling solo performances, the event was top notch. This year's winners were Pauline Jung, flute; Emily Siar, soprano; and Alexander C. Ullman, cello. All three are graduating seniors. The concert took place at Hill Hall under the UNC Symphony Orchestra's banner.
Emily Siar, student of Jeanne Fischer, sang a pair of two perfectly chosen boléros: "Zäide," Op. 19, No. 1 (1845), by the Romantic composer Hector Berlioz, with text by Roger de Beauvoir, and Léo Delibes' "Les filles de Cadix" (1874), with text by Alfred de Musset. These endearing short works, well suited for a young soprano, are filled with glorious coloratura passages. Siar soared with the agility of a nightingale. With a dazzling costume, beautiful stage deportment, and exquisite performance, Siar is already a diva. My heart sang.
Dedicated to the French virtuoso flautist Marcel Moyse, Jacques Ibert's Flute Concerto (1934) is one of the great 20th century works for the instrument. All three of the movements are stunning, but the third and longest movement calls for relentless running passages and a demanding virtuoso solo cadenza. With nerves of steel, Pauline Jung played with the speed of a Maserati sports car, demonstrating flawless technique and excellent breath control. Jung's superb performance brought cheers from her orchestral comrades and hearty applause from the audience. The smiling performer graciously bowed; her proud teacher, Brooks de Wetter-Smith, beamed.
Alexander C. Ullman, a cello student of Brent Wissick, performed the first movement of Antonín Dvořák's masterpiece, the Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1895). Premiered by the English cellist Leo Stern, it has since remained a mainstay of the cello repertoire. What I love about this piece is the equally luscious tutti sections. Ullman played with a rich, beautiful tone. Even the double- and triple-stopped notes seemed easy. Despite the technical demands, Ullman played with warmth and understanding. And the orchestra matched his passion with equal measure.
Rounding out the program were two orchestral works. Engelbert Humperdinck's beloved Prelude to Hansel and Gretel (1893) was conducted by the Assistant Conductor Dianna Fiore, a post-master's student in orchestral conducting. And Tonu Kalam led Johannes Brahms' "Tragic Overture," Op. 81 (1880). Both were performed with the artistry of a well-tooled ensemble.
Kalam consistently turns out a marvelous orchestra and this year's group is no exception. The horns played with warmth and clarity, the winds were outstanding, and strings were mighty. Together, the ensemble was tight and responsive.
Congratulations to all the fine musicians and their conductors. The concert was a joyous occasion and a grand success.
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