Miller, Porfiris wow crowd during Saturday's Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra performance

New London -- Violinist Anton Miller and violist Rita Porfiris wowed a packed Garde Arts Center Saturday during an Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra concert that featured them in the demanding "Sinfonia Concertante" (K.364) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Playing on Mozart's 262nd birthday, the so-called Miller-Porfiris Duo, who are both on the faculty at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, played the score to the hilt, he with lightning quick hands and the stance of a boxer and she with impeccable counter-punch timing and charming phrasing.

The duo was never so affecting as in the slow second movement, a love song that constantly shifted between the impetuous violin and the imploring viola wrapped in beautiful Mozart melodies and exquisitely played.

"It's one of Mozart's greatest concertos," Miller enthused in a pre-concert talk, noting that his 1780 violin likely had begun construction a year earlier, in the same year Mozart penned the piece.

Miller and Porfiris provided a few extra smiles when they gave the audience an encore piece, the Hoe-down from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo." The tour de force elicited a long ovation.

Equally charming was the performance of soprano Sarah Yanovitch, who happens to be the daughter of Heather Yanovitch, a violinist with the ECSO. Yanovitch, a blond with an ethereal voice, sang two gorgeous Mozart solos, "Ruhe sanft mein holdes Leben" from the unfinished opera Zaide and "L'amero saro costante" from Il Re Pastore.

Showing off a delicate voice that easily lofted to high notes as if borne on wings, Yanovitch followed up with a concert-concluding encore that featured another birthday boy, Jerome Kern, in an arrangement of his classic show tune "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Another highlight of the concert was a second Mozart "Sinfonia Concertante" (K.297b) featuring ECSO principals Carla Parodi on oboe, Kelli O'Connor on clarinet, Tracy McGinnis on bassoon and Matthew Muehl-Miller on French horn. The dreamy piece featured dynamic playing by the quartet placed at the front of the orchestra, giving ECSO principals a chance to show off their beautiful sound and terrific coordination.

ECSO conductor Toshiyuki Shimada did his usual superlative job of holding it all together as he had to cue both in front and back of him during most of the night, choosing for the most part to eschew his usual podium.

The other two pieces in the two-hour ECSO performance featured yet another composer celebrating a birthday in common with Mozart, the Frenchman Edouard Lalo. The evening's opening piece, Lalo's "Le Roi d'Ys Overture," was especially appreciated by the audience, a composition full of punchy brass and wistful strings. But his "Rapsodie norvegienne" was another find, with dramatic folk themes conveyed beautifully on violin by concertmaster Stephan Tieszen. 

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