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The North Carolina Symphony kicked off a full weekend of nature-inspired, picturesque music with a special partnership with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Although the remaining two concerts this weekend will be presented in Koka Booth Amphitheatre, this partnership brought nature indoors to Meymandi– the headlining Vivaldi's Four Seasons was performed alongside video footage of the four seasons as they appear in North Carolina. Conductor Joshua Gersen, assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, led the orchestra with ease and appropriate subtlety, and violinist Jennifer Frautschi made a resplendent appearance for the Vivaldi.
It could be said that the program order moved from portraying intricacies of nature to more sweeping views, by starting with Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream (Op. 21). The composer's first claim to fame begins with gossamer, fairy-like strings that are transformed into a boisterous melody. The somewhat short overture offers many transitions, some sudden, some gradual, all woven into a fanciful tapestry that the NC Symphony spun. In contrast, Handel's Water Music is even-tempered and intimate (especially with a pared-down orchestra), yet still intricate. The suite was arranged to be performed outdoors, which explains the presence of bassoon, oboe, and two horns. The balance between these and the strings was impeccable – moments of fluttery harmony between the two horns was especially memorable. Moments of melodic tension are offset by a circular, easy single meter in many of the suite's movements.
Vivaldi's Four Seasons is widely hailed as one of the earliest programmatic works – in fact, his first publication of the concertos in 1725 included short sonnets written for each movement of the four concertos, most likely written by Vivaldi himself. Thus, the work has lasting influence, and is a standard powerhouse for violin soloists such as Frautschi, whose sinuous energy and fierce expression brought the music to life, most notably in the faster movements. The video projection was a gorgeous medley of images, bird's-eye drone footage, and macro shots of wildlife; all of these, of course, went along with both the season and the mood of each movement. At times, live camera angles uniquely overlaid close-ups of Frautschi's vibrant playing with nature images on the big screen, which is perhaps something the NCS could explore more often.
Overall, the experience was special, with Vivaldi's timeless work overlaid with some of North Carolina's most beloved spots – Jockey's Ridge in the Outer Banks, Fort Macon, Pilot Mountain, and more. Both Gersen and Frautschi will perform together at Koka Booth this weekend, with Thursday's program repeated on Saturday and a divergent yet connected experience, Piazzolla's The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (with accompanying works) on Friday. See our sidebar for details.