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Visiting conductor Joseph Silverstein will both challenge and amuse the symphony. 

Silver Strings

Look for Richmond Symphony musicians to have tissues in their pockets and extra calluses on their fingers for their next two concerts at the Carpenter Center. At least, that's the way Adam DeGraff, principal second violin, recommends preparing for the visit of violinist and conductor Joseph Silverstein. DeGraff's teacher is a friend of Silverstein. "He said I should practice my ass off because he's a great violinist and that I should carry a tissue in my pocket, because at some point he would probably make me laugh so hard that I would cry."

Joseph Silverstein's career is no joke, however. He was concertmaster of the legendary Boston Symphony from 1962 to 1984, has performed frequently as a soloist around the world and has made several recordings. He recently assumed directorship of the Florida Philharmonic which is based in South Florida. He'll be in Richmond for the next two weeks to conduct the Richmond Symphony in a Double Exposure Series concert, lead a master class for area students, and solo with the Symphony at a Masterworks Series concert.

DeGraff saw Silverstein conduct the Utah Symphony and reports that his directing was "energetic but not at all intrusive. … It takes a secure musician to let go of control and let the music dictate." Silverstein, who led the Utah Symphony for 15 years, has been called a "generous" conductor by musicians, one who encourages collaboration between the musicians and the director. He has said that a good conductor is "someone who can help the players to perform in a manner which they feel reflects well upon them."

This weekend Silverstein will collaborate with the orchestra in a concert with the theme, "Night Music." Besides that little piece by Mozart (you'll know it when you hear it), the orchestra will perform Mozart's "Serenata Notturna," Arnold Schoenberg's "Transfigured Night" and "Night Music" by Thea Musgrave.

"Transfigured Night," one of Schoenberg's early compositions, will be performed in its string sextet version (he later arranged it for orchestra), with Silverstein playing violin and Richmond Symphony conductor Mark Russell Smith on one of the cello parts. The music is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel, in which a woman tells the man she loves that the child she is pregnant with is not his.

Musgrave, a composer from Scotland, wrote "Night Music" in 1968. It includes directions for two French horns to move from place to place in the concert hall to affect their sound, according to the character of the music. Musgrave wrote of the piece, "As so often in dreams there are quickly changing moods … so in this work highly contrasted musical sections quickly follow on from each other, they interchange and even at times overlap."

Next Friday, Silverstein will step out of the concert hall to work with young violinists. Students from all around the state will audition for a spot in the master class; Richmond Symphony musicians will choose three to five to play for Mr. Silverstein, who will offer advice and personal attention. The master class is open to the public.

Finally, Silverstein will perform Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 with the Richmond Symphony next Saturday and Monday. According to DeGraff, Silverstein's playing is "bold, full and spectacular . ... He does not seem to be afraid to push music to its edge." It's as if he has "absolute reckless confidence in his playing."

Concertmaster Karen Johnson is excited about the concerts. She says it's a good experience for the orchestra any time they have a visiting conductor or musician, "especially someone of such renown as Silverstein. It keeps us on our toes. Everyone wants to play very well."

The Masterworks concert will also feature two works by Czechoslovakian composers: "The Moldau" by Smetana and Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 in D minor.

Double Exposure concert will be held Feb. 15 at the Virginia Commonwealth University Performing Arts Center, 8 p.m., and Feb. 17 at University of Richmond Camp Concert Hall, 3 p.m. Discussion with the conductor one hour prior to each performance.

Masterworks Concert will be held Feb. 23 and 25 at 8 p.m. at the Carpenter Center. At 7 p.m. there will be a discussion with the conductor. Open rehearsal at 10 a.m., Saturday. Tickets are $5.

Joseph Silverstein Master Class at the VCU Performing Arts Center on Friday, Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $5.

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