Two of our backyard institutions just finished off their seasons with a bang, and torches were passed at the college. All's quiet for awhile, and we'd best use the short breathing spell to rest up, for the madness of Spoleto is almost upon us.
At the Charleston Symphony's Masterworks finale on April 21, things got going with Danse, a piano piece by Claude Debussy as transcribed for big band by his Impressionist colleague Maurice Ravel. Under David Stahl's baton, the piece shimmered with subtle orchestral colors and textures. Then we got to wallow in the gorgeous sound and moving sentiment of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, delivered with tender feeling and soaring vocal beauty by soprano Janice Dixon.
After halftime came the show-stopper, Gustav Mahler's glorious Symphony No. 1, the "Titan." There must've been 90 musicians onstage and, egad, were they ever a noisy bunch. But what noise it was: Maestro Stahl — a Mahler specialist — outdid himself, and his players got a shrieking, foot-stomping standing O.
Another fab finale, on April 17, ended Enrique Graf's International Piano Series. We heard one of our own: a brilliant young Cuban pianist, William Villaverde, who came to the College to study with Graf six years ago. He and I became good friends, and he performed often at Millennium. He graduated two years ago, and went on to grad school in Texas. At his wedding, I took photos and tried not to cry.
How do you play the critic for somebody you think of almost like an adopted son? Sure, William played Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and his countryman Ernesto Lecuona, all with terrific skill and spirit. But I knew he'd arrived as a finished artist when I heard him play American icon Samuel Barber's piano sonata — a piece that I first heard him play in my classical room, three years ago — and then it was very much a work in progress. It's one of those near-impossible pieces that can take years to master. But there was no doubt that he'd conquered it here — and I was so proud I almost teared up again. It's so great to watch talented musicians grow up.
Another passing of torches took place at the annual Student Composers' Forum concert at the Simons Center on Tues. April 24. I'd missed a concert the evening before of the music of composer David Maves, honoring his retirement from the College faculty. So it was good to hear another aspect of his legacy: the music of his students.
These events are always kinda haphazard. The music of nearly 20 rookie composers, performed mostly by overworked, under-rehearsed student musicians, smack in the middle of end-of-semester madness? Say what? The nearly three-hour program was a jumble of cancellations and substitutions and schedule shifts, on top of lots of musical goofs and a few near train wrecks.
But perfection's not the point here. There were some really inspiring moments, and some whiffs of ripening young genius. Among at least a half-dozen cool new works, my ears were especially tantalized by Sam Sfirri's colorful Sonata for Flute, Vibraphone and Cello, and Evan Rosenzweig's somber The Solitary Tree for string quartet. The last and longest piece — Michael Hanf's rousing, angry War in Art — was also for string quartet. You knew it was special: it swept you right up, ended too soon, and left you seething inside. And it got the evening's biggest ovation. Thank you, Dr. Maves. You done good.