Conductor Edwin Outwater embodies the joy of making music. His guest stint with the N.C. Symphony on Friday night communicated the emotions and moods of works spanning 200 years with precision and energy.
Outwater established his visceral approach within a few bars of Beethoven’s “Overture to King Stephen,” emphasizing crisp rhythms and finely controlled dynamics, glorying in the constant contrasts of bold and gentle passages within the music’s jubilant spirit.
He made an easy transition into Caroline Shaw’s “Lo,” a co-commission between the N.C Symphony and the Cincinnati Symphony, where it was first heard earlier this year. Shaw, a Greenville native and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for music, was the violin soloist.
The two-movement work is not a concerto. The violin sometimes plays solos and at other times becomes part of the string section. The first movement pitted Shaw’s contemplative, melancholy solo against orchestral intrusions, which grew more insistent and harsh, as if outside forces were hammering at an individual’s soul. In the second movement, Shaw played a somber obligato over the unusual combination of pizzicato strings and bass drum. Later, hymn-like chords battled with dissonant turbulence, balanced by Shaw’s ghostly filigree before a final sweetening of mood.
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Outwater confidently led the players through the constant changes, demonstrating his engagement with the music’s style and substance. Shaw’s playing was beautifully evocative, while her music showed an assured hand in this first work for full orchestra. Both were rewarded with positive, prolonged applause.
Stravinsky’s Concerto in E-flat Major, “Dumbarton Oaks,” opened the concert’s second half, a 1938 chamber work for 15 instruments named for the Washington, D.C., home in which it premiered. The three movements show off the strings, woodwinds and brass as individual soloists, burbling along in quirky, angular phrases full of tricky rhythms. Outwater led the orchestra principals with rigorous precision, the performance cohesive but missing a freedom of expression that would have given it more life.
Outwater finished the evening with more joyous Beethoven. Symphony No. 8 is the composer’s sunniest, and Outwater projected that feeling with bright, upbeat tempos that buoyed the piece. Outwater’s podium stances – dancing, crouching, leaping – added appropriate visuals to the music’s jovial character.
The audience responded with an extremely warm, genuine ovation.
If you go
What: N.C Symphony: Beethoven, Stravinsky, Shaw
Where: Meymandi Concert Hall, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South Street, Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 7
Info: 919-733-2750 or ncsymphony.org