Pianists, symphony offer rich 'collage' of music

Burlington, N.C., Times-News
Saturday, October 12, 2002
By Tom Dillon

Lots of Alamance County residents have heard Richard and John Contiguglia play piano duets, either on two pianos or four hands on one piano. The twin brothers have been frequent visitors here, playing a benefit for the Alamance County Historical Museum two years ago and opening the new Adams Foundation Piano Recital Series last year.

They're bringing the series back here this year, with the pianist Ruth Laredo Oct. 22 and their own performance in April 2003, both at Elon University. It's all made the area a place to expect top-notch piano music.

But relatively few folks here have heard the brothers perform backed by a symphony orchestra. That's what was offered Thursday night and will be offered again at 8 p.m. today at War Memorial Auditorium in Greensboro, as the Contiguglias join the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra for a performance of Francis Poulenc's Concerto in D Minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra.

And to judge from the reception Thursday, it's a chance that should not be missed. While persistent rainstorms kept attendance down Thursday, those who did go were treated to a mesmerizing performance that both exhibited the eclecticism of 20th century music and painted a picture of the composer's life and influences.

It brought a standing ovation from the audience and an unusual mid-concert encore - necessary because of the effort required to get two Steinway concert grand pianos on and off the stage. (The concerto is the middle piece in a three-part concert conducted by Markand Thakar, the first of five candidates to succeed Stuart Malina as conductor of the symphony.)

The brothers, collaborators since childhood, wrote in material for a pre-concert luncheon Tuesday that Poulenc "soaked up" sounds for the concerto from dance halls, boulevards, memories from his childhood - as many sounds as he could artistically squeeze into what they called "this collage of a composition."

"One would be hard-pressed to think of any other piece of music with such a pastiche of styles that succeeds so brilliantly," they had written. Hearing it performed, one must agree.

Sometimes, the works seems to evoke some of its sources in the French countryside. Other times, it's positively dance-like. And other elements are lavish. Richard Contiguglia called it Tuesday "a plethora of tunes that are thrown at the audience."

"The piece just grabs you by the back of the neck and makes you want to dance," he said. And that was true many times during Thursday night's opening performance. The music even includes castanets.

The Poulenc concerto was joined with "Dances of Galanta" by the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly and the Variations on an Original Theme, "Enigma," by Edward Elgar. It is a concert of music all from the first half of the 20th century, with a number of folk music influences.

"I spent a year in Romania," Thakar commented about the Kodaly piece after Thursday's performance, "and I heard this kind of music all day long."

The concert was a departure for the orchestra, if only because it was the first time in several years someone other than Stuart Malina was on the podium for a classical concert in Greensboro. All of the classical - or "masterworks" - concerts this year are being conducted by candidates for Malina's job. (The next is Thomas Wilkins of the Detroit Symphony on Nov. 14 and 16.)

But even with a new man on the podium, the orchestra responded well Thursday night. "I was very pleased," Thakar, who is current conductor of the Duluth Superior Symphony in Minnesota, said in remarks after the concert. So, it seemed, was the audience.


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