July 6, 2008

Beautiful Brevard: Music Center in Mountains is a Treat Well Worth a Trip

By Ken Keuffel, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

Jul. 6--A trip to the Brevard Music Center is quite a hike. But if you're willing to leave Winston-Salem around 9:30 or 10 on Sunday mornings through Aug. 10, you can attend an orchestral concert at 3 p.m., squeezing in brief stops for lunch and dinner along the way, and still get home at a reasonable hour.

I did just that on June 29. There were many reasons I made the trip.

For starters, the Winston-Salem area and Brevard have enjoyed productive musical ties over many years. Robert Moody, the music director of the Winston-Salem Symphony, studied at Brevard, and several instructors and students from area schools, including the N.C. School of the Arts, have found a summer home there as well.

I had not been to Brevard in several years, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with a place that Dan Locklair, the composer-in-residence at Wake Forest University, once called "the Tanglewood of the South."

Tanglewood, in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. For me, no place can match its idyllic beauty and delightful ambiance. But Brevard, nestled in a mountainous region near Asheville, comes close.

During the concert that I attended, the center's orchestra performed, showcasing Brevard's most advanced students and their teachers in an eclectic program of music by composers inspired in some way by Vienna. I sat under the covered portions of Whitington-Pfohl Auditorium, taking in the music from a couple of different places in the hall.

I discovered that even if you sit at the back of the hall, you'll be able to hear each and every note with clarity -- thanks to such acoustical enhancements as a "pit elevator" that moves several musicians closer to the audience. I escaped the sun, checked out the trees surrounding the auditorium and welcomed the occasional warm breeze. The whole experience amounted to a potent blend of sensations.

Two principals of the June 29 concert were of particular interest. One was violinist Robert McDuffie, and the other was conductor Keith Lockhart, who took over artistic leadership of Brevard this season, having succeeded David Effron.

McDuffie is scheduled to solo with the Winston-Salem Symphony on Oct. 2 in Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University. He'll perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto -- a work that seemed miles away from the material he performed at Brevard -- several ditties by Franz Lehar and Fritz Kreisler. Liken them, if you will, to several appetizers before two hefty main courses, Richard Strauss' "Dance of the Seven Veils," from Salome and the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier.

Remarkably, McDuffie made the pieces by Lehar and Kreisler sound more substantial than they actually are, investing them with a fat, lyrical sound and a sense of showmanship. The latter quality manifested itself in brief technically challenging passages executed with ease and in endings that came about so abruptly that they prompted more than a few chuckles from an obviously charmed audience.

Lockhart proved a compelling, energetic and physical presence on the podium, eliciting a particularly strong performance of the Rosenkavalier Suite.

Lockhart now conducts the Boston Pops and serves as the music director of the Utah Symphony Orchestra. I interviewed him after the June 29 performance about his plans for Brevard, where he has studied, taught and served on the board.

During our conversation, he stressed that the center's focus will remain "strongly on education," whether that means helping high-school students decide whether a career in music is for them or giving college players an edge with added training. He said that he has instituted a number of changes in the curriculum, which "the audience won't really notice, except maybe in the quality of performances."

Among other things, the changes will reduce the students' performance and rehearsal activities to the extent that they'll have more time to practice and/or assimilate what they've learned. Lockhart pointed out that Brevard has always made orchestras the main focus. He (laudably) has modified that a bit to make chamber music "a core and required part of the curriculum, as opposed to an option."

"You have to be playing chamber music," he said. "You have to learn to listen in small-group situations. You have to learn the individual responsibility that playing (in) string quartets engenders, as opposed to playing as one of 16 first violins."

Lockhart, for the benefit of Brevard's students and patrons, is reaffirming the idea that "music is an ongoing, living thing, not a museum." Translation: "More here-and-now music" by living composers should show up in "many" performances. Qualification: "Any steps are going to be judiciously taken. This is not a festival which draws flocks of Elliot Carter (an avant-garde composer) fans. It needs to be done within a pretty conservative context."

Will Lockhart succeed in taking Brevard to the next level? Only time will tell, of course, but he's off to an auspicious start.

I'd say another trip to Brevard is not far off.

Ken Keuffel can be reached at 727-7337 or at [email protected]

The Brevard Music Center's Summer Institute and Festival runs through Aug. 10 in Brevard. For more information, see www.brevardmusic.org or call 828-862-2100.


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