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
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.