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Torrential rain and an impending thunderstorm wasn't enough to keep the North Carolina Symphony from putting on a night of Beethoven in Koka Booth Amphitheatre. The downpour in the time leading up to the concert was so bad that the fire alarm in the amphitheatre went off while concertgoers were taking cover under the back pavilion. By the time power was cleared and restored on the stage, the rain had nearly stopped, and the audience was able to take its seats on the lawn. The audience may have been slightly lessened from the hurricane-like conditions of earlier in the evening, but not significantly. Clearly, it was worth enduring a little rain for the NCS performance.
Unfortunately, due to the hold placed on the concert for about 30 minutes, the "Egmont" Overture was cut from the concert's program. Fans of this dramatic work may have been disappointed, but the two larger works on the program more than made up for the deficit. Guest conductor Nicholas Hersh, Associate Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led the Symphony through Beethoven's lighthearted and exciting Symphony No. 8 in F. Compared to most of Beethoven's other symphonies, which can be full of dense dramaticism, the 8th Symphony has a more cheerful (and briefer) approach to the genre. The first movement, Allegro vivace con brio, begins delicately in fast triple time, with unpredictable dynamic changes that are classic Beethoven. Hersh's gestures were entertaining to watch here; at times sharp and dynamic, or circular and gentle, depending on the music at hand.
The second movement (Allegretto scherzando) is brief and slightly calmer, with delightful light and staccato woodwinds. A graceful minuet makes up the third movement, in which lyrical woodwind solos shine through the orchestra's texture. One of the exciting things about the orchestra's yearly Summerfest season is that many of the musicians that play on the first chair in their instrument are different than the orchestra's lineup in Meymandi, exposing audiences to as many wonderful musicians as possible. These musicians include oboist Alex Liedtke (acting Associate Principal), clarinetist Michael Cyzewski (Assistant Principal), and Assistant Principal bassoonist Wenmin Zhang (who, appropriately, is also the Beethoven Chair). Of course, from the audience, it was hard to tell exactly who was playing what, but there were many instances of excellent playing from the woodwind section that deserve a shout out.
The fourth movement of Beethoven's 8th is written in an altered Sonata-rondo form, where the opening theme is repeated throughout the movement, and once, startlingly, in a minor key. It ends with a simple but masterful and decisive tonic cadence. Forgoing an intermission, the concert continued with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, which is often nicknamed the "Emperor Concerto." American internationally performing pianist Gilles Vonsattel took the stage for this performance, and no doubt impressed the audience with his effusive and passionate playing. The concerto begins with a piano solo, where cascading waves of arpeggios unfurl to introduce the theme, with full-force orchestral punctuation. Vonsattel's crisp and clear playing masked the sheer difficulty of this passage. Playful two-note woodwind phrases are pitted against the strings in the orchestral interlude that follows, after which the piano reenters subtly. The return of the movement's main themes in the recapitulation is majestic and breathless, building to a grand finish. The gorgeous theme of the second movement may be familiar to many, as it is one of the most sublime themes of all orchestral slow movements. This theme as well as an uplifting and earnest chord progression unite the movement, while the piano plays pondering variations on the theme. Suddenly, the third movement began without pause when Vonsattel brought its joyful theme to life. For this Rondo, the theme is repeated four times, each more robust than the last, to bring this unique and exciting (in more ways than one) concert to a close.
There are five more concerts in the North Carolina Symphony's Summerfest season, so don't miss out on the opportunity to see the orchestra in its outdoor home for the summer. See our calendar for details.