Monday, July 26, 2010

Millennium Stage - Verdi, Mozart, Bottesini & Dvorak - 07/25/10

Conductor: Elizabeth Schulze
Verdi: Overture to La Forza del Destino
Mozart: Concerto in A Major, K. 622 - Allegro - Benjamin Chen
Bottesini: Concerto No 2 in B Minor - Moderato - Samuel Suggs
Dvorak: Symphony No 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World")

After a big bad thunderstorm tore through our suffocatingly hot July weekend, finally making the air outside somewhat breathable, I dared to step out of my apartment on Sunday afternoon to head for the Kennedy Center for the final concert by the promising students of the National Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Music Institute Orchestra. Culminating four weeks of intense training, the last performance is typically “the real thing”. Although it is scheduled as part of the daily Millennium Stage, it takes place in the concert hall and lasts almost two hours, including intermission. We never know what is on the program until we get there, but it rarely fails to please the vast majority of the audience. This year again, a smorgasbord featuring Verdi, Mozart, Bottesini and Dvorak sounded like the perfect send-off for musicians and audience alike.

As any good old-fashioned Italian opera, Verdi’s La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) mixes and matches the themes of love, death, friendship and revenge. All are unmistakably present in its attractive overture, but the hight point is undoubtlessly the spellbinding flute melody impersonating Fate. Under the dynamic baton of ever-cheerful Elizabeth Schulze, the youngsters on the stage quickly appropriated the piece and gave it a spontaneous, energetic spin.
Next we got to enjoy Benjamin Chen’s clarinet playing skills as he worked his way through the first movement of Mozart’s lovely Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A Major. Although it is entitled Allegro, the soloist is mostly there to highlight the intimacy and gracefulness of Mozart’s composition. And so he did.
Double-basses very seldom take center stage, but Bottesini’s Concerto for Bass and Orchestra No 2 in B Minor gives them just the perfect opportunity. Yesterday, we enjoyed that special treat infused with remarkable panache thanks to the virtuosic talent of Samuel Suggs, our second soloist for the evening. Another up-and-coming talent to watch.
To conclude this unique occasion, what could be more appropriate than Dvorak’s majestic New World symphony? Bristling with intense drama and subtle darkness, indirectly inspired by Native American and African-american music, this powerful evocation of the United States, where the Czech composer was residing at the time, remains his most popular work and regularly appears on concert programs all over the world. This new generation whole-heartedly dwelled into it with rousing gusto, and if not everything fell perfectly into place, their boundless enthusiasm at tackling such a meaty work more than made up for it. The last, famously hair-raising, movement was a most appropriate grand finale to a symphony, and a concert, to remember.

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