An unannounced theme seemed to frame the N.C. Symphony’s beautifully balanced concert Friday night, contrasting youth and exuberance with maturity and contemplation, as reflected in the program’s choice of composers, pieces and performers.
Guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein looked impossibly young to be standing on the podium (although nearing 30), but his confident precision and evident engagement throughout the evening signaled a major talent.
Julia Adolphe’s 2014 “Dark Sand, Sifting Light,” proved impressive for a 25-year-old’s first orchestral work. The 10-minute piece began with hushed, high-pitched strings and intermittent piano tinklings conjuring the half-conscious, half-dreaming feeling that comes before drifting off in a nap. Little phrases from the strings and woodwinds, layered with sparkles of brass, soon led to a more ominous and eerie mood, a near-nightmare averted by the soothing calm before sleep.
Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 2, composed in 1942 at age 78, is a sunny, mellow work, like a refreshing summertime walk in the mountains. Principal French horn player, Rebekah Daley, immediately established her credentials in the opening solos, her burnished, rounded tone ringing out when necessary but also scaling down to the quietest dynamics. Weilerstein kept the piece sprightly, majestic or sublime as required, with the burbling finale sweetly realized by the orchestra’s vivid playing.
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After intermission, Weilerstein led a mesmerizing account of Peteris Vasks’ 2011 “Epifania,” a strings-only work composed at age 65 as an examination of his life. For 10 minutes, the audience held its collective breath as the moving, hymn-like melody repeated and overlapped, inducing a satisfying meditative state.
Edward Elgar’s 1899 “Enigma Variations” sounded newly composed in Weilerstein’s hands, his interpretation emphasizing the many contrasts of the theme and 14 variations, from lightly dancing to boldly striding. He didn’t stint on the big moments, especially the heartfelt “Nimrod” variation, but filtered the music through a youthful perspective. The orchestra, always responsive to guest conductors, again demonstrated its high standard of excellence.
What: N.C. Symphony
Where: Meymandi Concert Hall, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Info: 919-733-2750 or ncsymphony.org