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Quality chamber music, thanks to the UNCG School of Music, isn't hard to come by in Greensboro. Eduardo Vargas and the UNCG String Orchestra provided just that, with a program of music that literally spanned four centuries and four countries. Vargas is a doctoral conducting student who has led the University Symphony on many occasions, all of them quality performances.
The first piece on the program was a work by French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, titled “Premier Concert,” from his Pièces de clavecin en concerts. Rameau thrived in the Baroque era, and the music heard here was definitely in that vein. A challenge with Baroque music is allowing every voice to be heard well; Vargas and his ensemble managed this issue with agility. The balance was impeccable, and high, middle, and low strings could be heard very well. This three-movement work is not an easy piece, technically, but the orchestra stepped up to the occasion and executed the work very convincingly, despite a few pitch issues at the beginning of the piece.
Next on the program was Felix Mendelssohn's youthful Sinfonia No.1 in C. Not to be confused with his later symphonies, the young Mendelssohn wrote nearly thirteen of these works for string orchestra. For this work, Christina Fuchs, a candidate for a MM in Music Education, took the stage. This work is not far removed from Mendelssohn's later style – sophisticated melodies, light texture, and an effervescent playfulness were well on display here. In this two-movement work, one can hear the classicism that Mendelssohn adored but always shaped into his own mold. Fuchs, I anticipate, will go on to make a fine conductor if she continues to deliver performances of this quality.
Following the Mendelssohn, Vargas returned with the “Sentimental Sarabande” from Benjamin Britten's early Simple Symphony. (Something of note about the program was that three of the pieces were written early in their respective composers' lives.) The heartfelt emotion of this movement is anything but simple – indeed, Britten wrote just as much heartfelt emotion in this movement for strings as Mahler did in the Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony. It is very easy for a piece like this to become bogged down in its own subject matter, but once again Vargas kept the line moving forward while applying just the right amount of swoon.
The last piece on the program was a world premiere entitled Last Autumn Sky, by UNCG student composer Peter Borotto, a senior composition student. If this piece is a reliable indication of his talents then I'd say he has a very bright future ahead of him. The piece started off quietly, with only a couple of strings playing; as it progressed, layer after layer was added, culminating in a delightfully rhythmic middle section, full of life and vigor. (I couldn't help but be reminded of the rhythm that drives the opening movement of Bruckner's Sixth Symphony.) The piece ended as it began, quietly serene. The work was very enthusiastically received, with a large part of the applause directed at Borotto himself. Indeed, this piece was the highlight of the evening. I fully encourage attending the next String Orchestra concert, for the music making was of the highest quality.
For information about that next concert, click here.
*The author is CVNC's first intern at UNCG. We are delighted to welcome him to our journal.