The Celebration Concert Tuesday at the Gaillard Center was precisely that: a celebration of Spoleto and music of every genre and from nearly every historical period and nationality. From the Italian Baroque (Vivaldi) to German Classicism (Mozart) to late Romantic opera (Puccini) to 20th-century music (Leonard Bernstein and other Americans).
German conductor Evan Rogister led the evening’s orchestral works and displayed a command of the ensemble that was both subtle and expansive. His gestures range from the smallest hand movements to the full blown and dance-like that bring to visual life the aural imaginings of the music. Rogister used his entire body to bring forth persuasive interpretations of the music and its emotional content.
Bookended by selections from Bernstein’s “Candide,” the 90-minute program included the “L’estro armonico,” Op. 3 No. 11 by Antonio Vivaldi. The orchestra was pared down and, refreshingly, seated according to the baroque plan — that is, second violins on the right. The work featured chamber artists more frequently seen at the Dock Street Theatre and was a smashing success. Geoff Nuttall, who simultaneously played solo first violin and led the ensemble in this concerto grosso was outstanding; his partners in the concertino — violinist Livia Sohn, harpsichordist Pedja Muzijevic and cellist Christopher Costanza — formed an excellent foil to the ripieno (large ensemble). Costanza in particular displayed a deft facility in what was a demanding part.
The tone of the concert changed when a jazz ensemble, comprised of orchestra players, came onstage to perform “I’m Thru with Love” by Joseph “Fud” Livingston (great uncle of Mayor John Tecklenburg). Quiana Parler beautifully sang this ballad originally performed by Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot.” Her phrasing was eloquent and the timbre of her voice was just right for the melancholy lyrics. She was superbly accompanied by the ensemble.
Edward Thornton Jenkins’ “Charlestonia” followed, performed by the full orchestra. Jenkins was an African American who studied at the Royal College of Music in London. This nod to his hometown was premiered in London in 1917 and sounds very American; it foreshadows the music of George Gershwin, in particular “An American in Paris.” It turned out to be the sleeper of the program — unknown but well-received.
Puccini’s “La tragenda" (“The Spectre”) from “Le Villi” was appropriately energetic and had the string players sawing away at their instruments. But it was “Vogliatemi bene” (“Love Me Please”) from “Madama Butterfly” that stole the show. This tragic duet was brilliantly sung by soprano Natalia Pavlova and tenor Jamez McCorkle, both appearing in the festival’s production of “Eugene Onegin.”
Far and away the best singers of the night, their high notes were full with a sense of ease that allowed the audience to simply bask in the breathtaking sound. Their acting was superb and the timbre of their voices when combined into parallel octaves created an effect that clearly moved the audience, which gave them a rousing ovation.
Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story” was the audience favorite, and rightly so. This demanding 20-minute work brought out the best of the orchestra, especially percussion and brass. The performance, festive and alive, was replete with finger snapping, cello twirling and shouted words.
The undisputed star of the evening was the orchestra itself. It handled the different styles of music with aplomb, whether the pure tones of Vivaldi or the rich sound of Bernstein. Surely there isn’t a better student ensemble in the country. We should count ourselves fortunate to have such a fantastic ensemble available to us — even if it is only for a couple of weeks out of the year.
Reviewer David Friddle, an accomplished choral conductor, organist, composer and educator, is director of music at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in Summerville.