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Winston-Salem Symphony opens season
with expertise and flair
By Margaret Sandresky Special Correspondent | Posted 2 days ago
Upon entering the Stevens Center on a beautiful early-fall afternoon for the Winston-Salem
Symphony’s opening concert of the 2015-16 season, the audience was greeted with a stage
overflowing with orchestra players.
And upon the entrance of Maestro Robert Moody, the full house assembled was soon lustily
singing the National Anthem.
This was followed by the programmatic surprise promised in advanced publicity — it will remain
a surprise for Tuesday’s audience — a very beautiful performance, heartily cheered.
Playing a 1779 Guadagnini violin, Lara St. John then wowed the audience with her performance
of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Minor. Her virtuoso command of the instrument was
exciting, and her highly personal interpretation spoke from the heart, capturing immediate
attention by her open, colorful artistry.
In the second movement, the interplay of phrases between solo violin and answering
woodwinds was exquisite, and it should be noted that the entire woodwind section played with
precision, beautiful tone and a high degree of musicianship throughout the concert.
In the last movement, St. John seemed to lead the orchestra on a merry chase. Moody is a
wonderfully sympathetic fellow, an adroit conductor, and it must be a delight for a visiting artist
to work with him, for he is right there with the orchestra at every nuance and tempo. The
audience was thrilled.
After intermission, we heard the Hector Berlioz “Symphonie Fantastique” and viewed the
impressive presence of two harps, two large bells, a bass drum, and two sets of timpani at
stage right and left. When premiered at the Paris Conservatoire in 1830, it created a furor partly
because of the loudness of the oversized orchestra.
The piece, written only six years after Beethoven’s towering ninth symphony, is not in typical
symphonic form and seems worlds away from its predecessor. Titled “Episode in the Life of an
Artist: Symphonie Fantastique, in Five Parts,” it presented an autobiographical story describing
the composer’s opium-induced dreams of unrequited love for an actress and ended with a
dramatic “March to the Scaffold” containing the famous “Dies irae” or “Day of Wrath” from the
Roman Catholic Requiem Mass for the dead.
Tearing apart the old refined, sophisticated forms of pre Napoleonic-French Revolution times,
the 27-year-old composer conceived his massive work knowing he had the virtuoso players of
the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra plus students to fill the chairs demanded for his outsized
Berlioz’s inventive and masterful use of novel combinations of instruments plus his adoption of
the so-called “fixed idea” in which the same set of pitches is transformed into different motives
in order to portray various emotions, made his symphony a landmark work, one that
scandalized his Parisian audience, and that still felt inventive and original in the performance
Sunday afternoon.
Much of the writing demands virtuoso performance, and the players, led by Maestro Moody,
really delivered the goods with expertise and flair.
Margaret Sandresky is Professor of Music Emerita at Salem College.
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