REVIEW: Is Third Time a Charm for SPO’s ProjectMaestro?

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Scott Seaton is the final candidate for Music Director of the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

BY SANDY STAGGS
ARTS CRITIC

From those four iconic opening notes in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in September to Saturday night’s triumphant Boom-Pow-Boom coda in Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4,” Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra’s ProjectMaestro has been a sight and sound to behold as the organization’s mission of selecting a new music director comes to a fruitful conclusion.

The Music Foundation of Spartanburg’s third candidate Scott Seaton took the baton Saturday evening at Twichell Auditorium in a diverse program of Italian, Austrian and Russian masterworks.

Seaton, now in his third season in Northern California as Music Director of the North State Symphony as well as Principal Conductor of the Veridian Symphony Orchestra, was quick to point out his Southern roots (Nashville) with a “Howdy” greeting for the Twichell audience.

Impassioned and animated, Seaton has a compact build and boyish good looks that could pass for a recent college graduate. But this avid runner and cyclist – he recently completed a cross-country solo trek from Oregon to Boston – has been conducting for nearly some 17 years  and won the INTERAKTION competition in Berlin in 2011.

For his “audition,” Seaton conducted the overture to one of Gioachino Rossini’s one-act comic operas, “Il Signor Bruschino.” While many of his early farces are long forgotten, his overtures are still played in modern repertoires today including this cheerful and airy piece. And besides the skill of our city’s musicians, what impressed the reviewer most was the novel score’s call for the second violins to tap some of notes on their metal music stands, creating a percussive effect.

Internationally-recognized violinist Andrew Sords was guest soloist for the second selection of the program, Mozart’s “Concerto for Violin no. 5.” Sords displayed extraordinary precision in the frenzied energy of the Allegro Aperto, tossing back and forth the main motif to the orchestra (with two oboes and two horns), and the rapid-fire ascending and descending of pointed melody and double and triple stops with fiery intensity and richness.

The Adagio, by contrast, is serene, even sullen with the lilt of a slow dance. But it’s the Rondeau that gives this long concerto its nickname, The Turkish, evident in its gypsy-flavor and march rhythm.

And in the SPO’s grand tradition of always presenting a bonus number not listed in the program, Sords blazed through a gushing and poignant theme that was instantly recognizable in Henri Vieuxtemps’ “Souvenir d’Amerique: Variations Burlesque on Yankee Doodle.”

Seaton has a youthful spring in his step and uses the entire podium. He elicits emphatic command and collaboration from the philharmonic, particularly in the diminuendo passages.

And this was no more apparent than in the bedrock of the evening‘s program – Tchaikovsky’s rousing “Symphony no. 4” clocking in at around 44 minutes.

From the brooding first movement with it motif of fate, to the tumultuous and passionate Andantino launched by a single oboe, this symphony was no less than magnificent.

In the “Scherzo” section, the string sections play pizzicato in a melodic conversation with upper and lower strings and builds to a majestic blending with the woodwinds and brass, before winding down for a light finish.

And then comes the boom-pow-boom Finale: Allegro con fuoco (with fire), which culminates in an all-out assault on the main theme with cymbals and percussion and one of the most spectacular and triumphant endings of the romantic era, prompting an immediate standing ovation from the packed house at Twichell.

Spartanburg patrons can still give their input on the three candidates for Music Director – Seaton, Patrick Dupré Quiqley and Stefan Sanders.  And videos of all three performances are on the SPO website at www.spartanburgphilharmonic.org/vote.

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