Review: UT-SOM’s Concerto Competition Concert

One of the understated satisfactions of writing about music in a college town with a university-level School of Music is the opportunity to see and hear musicians that may be on the cusp of noteworthy careers. Such was the case in Knoxville with the UT School of Music’s annual  Concerto Competition Concert on Sunday, March 17. (The UT-SOM Concerto Competition is a juried competition open to all students enrolled in performance instruction.) After UT Orchestra’s music director James Fellenbaum opened the afternoon with Tchaikovsky’s Slavonic March, the winners in four categories (vocal, piano, strings, and non-strings) joined the UT Symphony Orchestra for a performance of their winning entry.

Without doubt, percussionists are the least heralded members of orchestras, yet their work requires as much, if not more, consummate musicianship and accuracy as any other section. Percussion soloists are an even rarer breed—those who must, with little repertoire in the classical world, somehow draw life and descriptive emotions out of instruments that seem to texturally resist it. Marimbist, and Masters of Music candidate, Kevin Hanrahan, the winner in the non-strings category, did just that in the second movement from Casey Cangelosi’s Concerto for Marimba and Orchestras No. 2, a work clearly aimed at contemporary virtuosos on the instrument.

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide certainly gets a lot exposure in concert versions these days; and one of the jewels—pardon the pun— among the operetta’s many is Cunegonda’s aria “Glitter and Be Gay.”  The number is a real showcase for a soprano with coloratura power and ability, assuming that the soprano also knows a thing or two about comic delivery. Those qualities came together brilliantly in Jenna Weaver, a senior vocal performance major, who really wowed the audience in the Bernstein.

The final two winners in the strings and piano categories chose material from two Russian composers who, ironically, didn’t really care much for each other and who had dramatically different life experiences in the year of 1917. Sergei Prokofiev was finishing up his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 (although it wasn’t premiered until 1923). The work avoids virtuosic showmanship for a more integral structure, requiring a top-of-form violinist with the musical maturity to understand Prokofiev’s sense of textural balance. Anileys Bermudez was just such a violinist, taking the third Moderato movement and weaving a gorgeous silken fabric with the orchestra. And those subtle,  final trills, high above the orchestral line, were quietly impressive.

While Prokofiev was having a banner compositional year in 1917, Sergei Rachmaninoff was preparing to flee Russia under the duress of the Russian Revolution with his family. Before his exodus, though, he managed to extensively revise his Piano Concerto No. 1, written first as a student in 1891. Pianist Carson Hayes, a junior in Piano Performance, chose the opening movement for his entry. This turned out to be a brilliant conclusion to the afternoon’s program. Hayes is a remarkably talented pianist, one that we shall, no doubt, be hearing a lot about in the future.

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