The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s concert season ended Sunday as it began in November, with a sold-out audience standing and shouting its approval at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center in Punta Gorda.
There were three such ovations, actually. Two of them for Julian Schwarz, 28, a rising young cellist, playing since he was 16 on the national and international stage.
He held the audience — and some orchestra members as well — transfixed with his virtuosity, tone and intensity, playing — for 40 minutes — the four movements of Sir Edward Elgar’s classic “Concert for Violincello in E Minor, Op. 85,” wiping the sweat from his brow as he progressed.
As he left the stage, the ovation continued, bringing him back for an encore, playing, solo, movements of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Unaccompanied Cello Sonata.” The ovation was all but deafening.
Schwarz said later that “when an audience like this comes to the concert, I’m thankful they are there, so I like to give them something in return.”
He then sat in the audience after intermission to watch Maestro Raffaele Ponti and the orchestra perform Johannes Brahms’ stirring “Tragic Overture, Op. 81,” and Italian composer Ottorino Respighi’s masterpiece, “Pini de Roma” (Pines of Rome).
The piece, in four movements is a virtual musical tour of the life and times of ancient Rome. It began with “The Pines of Villa Borghese,” a hectic, frenetic mix of sounds depicting a cacophony of children playing games.
It segued seamlessly into “Pines Near a Catacomb,” a quiet, almost mournful Gregorian chant, evoking religious hymns of Christians at the time. At one point, the only sound coming from the orchestra were the soft strings of a harp.
With “The Pines of Janiculum,” strings are intended by Respighi to bring to mind a full moon illuminating Rome’s palaces and gardens, with a song of a nightingale complementing the scene.
Then, “The Pines of the Appian Way” shatters the peace and quiet of catacombs and nightingale as Roman Soldiers march boldly in victory along the famous route, with the ground rumbling under their boots, drums sounding trumpets blaring, and cymbals crashing, portraying the glory of the ancient Roman empire.
The stunning fortissimo ending, with the orchestra’s bows held high — a staple under Ponti’s direction — brought the audience out of its seats once again
In a post-concert interview, Schwarz had high praise for Ponti, the orchestra and the audience.
“It’s one of the finest orchestras of this size community I’ve ever played with,” he said. “It’s an incredible testament to this community. You can feel the pride the audience has in this orchestra, and that makes the music come alive on stage. I think it’s important that the public takes ownership of the orchestra so it can flourish.
“When I finished,” he said, “I felt like I was a member of the audience family.” Watching the second half of the concert from the audience, Schwarz said that “people were coming up to me with such gratitude. Rarely is there so much thanks.
“You have a great orchestra, a great hall, a great public and a great maestro,” he said. “I’d come back any time. It was really inspiring to play with these musicians.”