It was college night and the band was hot. And the usual median age probably was halved. But everyone had a great time. And no wonder — the super-virtuoso trio, Time for Three, comprised of Zachary DePue and Nicholas Kendal (violins) and Ranaan Meyer (double bass) joined the usually more staid Greensboro Symphony Orchestra for half a night of fiddling.
The evening started with a fiery reading of Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto for Three Violins. Playing between the two young fiddle players from Time for Three was Maestro Dmitry Sitkovetsky, GSO Music Director and internationally renowned violinist.
Much of the success of the first movement Allegro has to do with the sudden changes in dynamics that take place when the music shifts between the soloists and the orchestra. The trio and orchestra made the most of these contrasts. The slow second movement featured the trio without orchestral back-up. Here Sitkovetsky was given the tune and the other two supplied accompaniment — Kendall playing pizzicato and DePue arpeggios. Beautiful. The Finale sizzled with energy and a more equal sharing of material between the three soloists and orchestra. Despite terrific playing throughout the piece, ensemble was not always perfect, especially between the soloists and orchestra. Perhaps this can be explained by the absence of a conductor for the orchestra.
Jennifer Higdon's Concerto 4-3 (2007) was commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the Wheeling Symphony. It is a three-movement affair, with ample room for the Trio to improvise with optional cadenzas between each movement. Each movement carries a descriptive title reminiscent of Higdon's childhood memories of Tennessee, where she grew up. Sitkovetsky traded in his violin for a baton and led the GSO from the podium the rest of the evening.
"The Shallows" (evocative of mountain rivers) begins with extended techniques for the soloists that evoke squeaking mice and electric guitars to name only two; later the music settles down into wistful bluegrass fiddling.
"Little River" is more lyric and features solo statements from each of the three intermingled with interaction with the orchestral forces that leads to an overwhelming climax. ""Roaring Smokies" is a "hoedown" that features passages of perpetual motion and finishes off the piece in a blaze of fire.
The orchestral writing was by turns brilliant and subtle. Wood blocks, marimba, timpani, triangle, gong and lots of other percussion instruments added much to the color of the score. This score is not easy, but the GSO pulled off the tricky changes in mood and meter without a hitch.
It is easy to see why the work was written specifically for, and is dedicated to Time for Three. Extreme virtuosity, the willingness to take risks, superb musicianship, and nuanced sensitivity to each member of the band are the distinct elements of both Time for Three's music making and this concerto. The three musicians appear to take great delight in playing, and in interacting with the orchestra (and audience); such joyous music making is infectious and practically guarantees a powerful response. Thursday night's concert was no exception, and the Trio returned for two encores.
The first was a cover of "Hide and Seek" by indie artist Imogene Heap. This is a tender, delicate arrangement and passes the main tune between all three instruments with various accompaniments from the other two. The second encore was "Orange Blossom Special"; the Trio played this last year when they were here, but I guarantee not the same way.
All who think that classical music is pretentious and snobby owe it to themselves to make a point to hear this group perform. Time for Three definitely takes the stuffiness out of starched shirts.
The second half of the long concert was given over to Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C major ("The Great"). So what makes this symphony so Great? First of all, its size — Thursday night's reading clocked in at 50 minutes despite brisk tempos and unplayed repeats. It is also a marvel of orchestration, with textures that evoke both Mendelssohn and Brahms. Beautiful tunes abound, and gentle lyricism is juxtaposed with grandeur. This is nowhere more evident than in the introduction to the first movement, where the horns intone a majestic call (impeccably played by Robert Campbell and Lynn Beck) to which the entire string section responds.*
The second movement Andante features wonderful writing for the winds, beginning with a beguiling oboe solo. Later, clarinet, flute and bassoon join in. The third movement begins as a boisterous Scherzo that is mollified some by more lyric passages. One could have asked for more attention to some details in this movement; for example, it would have been nice to hear the interplay between the violins and the celli when they trade melodies.
The Finale returns the majestic character from the opening movement and features some great brass writing, which the GSO played like gangbusters.
The concert will be repeated Saturday, January 23, in Dana Auditorium on the Guilford College campus. See our calendar for details.