Music director Sylvia Alimena showed how well she knows her orchestra's strengths and her audience's tastes when she picked the program for the Friday Morning Music Club's concert Sunday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. It opened with Franz von Suppe's "Light Cavalry" Overture and closed with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5--music of high energy, exciting and sharply defined rhythms and (particularly in the Tchaikovsky) strong emotional content. It was music to keep an audience on the edge of its seats.
Perhaps even more important, it was music calculated to bring out the strength of this orchestra's woodwind, brass and percussion players, music of big, rousing climaxes. Not that the string section was unemployed--it gave a good account of Tchaikovsky's waltz and a rather tentative but effective treatment of the contrasting lyric passages in Suppe's overture. But the other sections seized and held the spotlight in the most memorable sections of both works.
For lyric grace, the program's high point was Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, played between the overture and the intermission with a limpid, superbly controlled solo performance by Ji-Eun Kang, second-prize winner in the 1999 Washington International Competition. Kang brought out all of Chopin's poetry, and her collaboration seemed to inspire the orchestra, which had earlier been rather square and tentative in its phrasing. Using both professional musicians and skilled amateurs, all of whom donate their talents, the orchestra is slightly uneven in personnel, but despite a few minor lapses of intonation and ensemble and an occasional dropped note, it made the music work as intended and clearly satisfied the audience. Alimena conducted skillfully throughout.