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Orchestral Music Review

Western Piedmont Symphony Masterworks Concert Features Violinist Dmitri Berlinsky & New Music by J. Mark Scearce

October 4, 2008 - Hickory, NC:

The Western Piedmont Symphony began its 44th Masterworks season at the J. E. Broyhill Center under the baton of Music Director John Gordon Ross with a concert titled "Autumn Colors" and, indeed, the performance was quite colorful.

The concert opened with the powerfully dramatic Overture to Egmont, Op. 84a, by Ludwig van Beethoven's (1770-1827). In 1810, Beethoven was commissioned to compose an overture and nine other numbers for the Viennese revival of Goethe's five-act play Egmont. Only the overture stands alone as a concert piece; the rest of the score is seldom heard in its entirety. The orchestra captured the dark, brooding moments and the triumphal episodes with great passion and a great dynamic range not heard enough from this ensemble, providing a very exciting performance.

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was a Finnish composer of the later Romantic period and one of the most notable composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity. He wrote only one large-scale work for solo instrument and orchestra, his Concerto for Violin, Op. 47, presented here with Dmitri Berlinsky as soloist.

Berlinsky, originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, received bachelors and masters degrees in music from the Moscow Conservatory and a performer's diploma from the Juilliard School in New York. He is currently on the music faculty of Michigan State University. He has performed on many of the important stages around the world.

Sibelius' violin concerto is Romantic in style, especially the second movement, and demands virtuosic playing by the soloist as well as the orchestra; both were up to the challenge. Berlinsky played with sensitivity and lyricism while meeting the extreme technical demands of the work. This was an extremely satisfying performance of a work in which it is not easy to maintain musicality while achieving the requisite virtuosity.

Prior to the start of the second half of the program, Maestro John Ross paid tribute to two retiring members of the orchestra; Leroy Sellers, who has played continuously in the violin section since almost the very first concert 44 years ago, and Philip Paul, who served as a member of the French horn section for 24 years, and as orchestra Personnel Manager since 2001. Both were presented plaques honoring their dedicated service.

The program continued with Postcards: Ten Intermezzi for Orchestra by J. Mark Scearce (b.1960). Scearce, currently the Director of NCSU's Music Department, served as the first resident composer of the Western Piedmont Symphony for three years, starting in 1998. Postcards was commissioned in 2005 by the NC Symphony to mark its 75th anniversary. It is a set of ten variations on a theme. Some of the sections are quite short, consisting only of the stated theme. Others are longer and more involved. All are quite pleasing and were played by the orchestra with great beauty.

Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-81) concluded the program. The work drew its inspiration from a display of works by Russian architect Victor Hartmann, a friend of the composer. Originally written as a piano solo, it was orchestrated by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) at the request of Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky in 1922. The piece consists of a musical representation of ten of Hartmann's drawings, interspersed with brief "Promenades" as Mussorgsky walks from one picture to the next. The orchestra re-created each of these pictures with great accuracy and musicality, providing a wonderful panorama of color. Special note should be made of the lush alto saxophone playing of Robert George in "The Old Castle" and the nagging playing of Guest Principal Trumpet Tim Hudson in the "Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuyle" section.

For this concert Maestro Ross moved the viola section to the front of the right side of the stage, with the cellos inside, where the violas had been. This is a much better setup that allows the violas to be heard with more definition and clarity. It also serves to bring out the cellos' voices. I do hope that this becomes a permanent arrangement.

The entire orchestra is to be commended for a wonderful and exciting performance of great music. All of the section principal players, too numerous to mention, should be applauded for their very fine solos, and, of course, all of the section players must also be praised for their brilliant performances.

Note: The first edition of this review included only page 1 of 2 pages. We regret the technical glitch that caused this initial truncation.