Music filled with enormous struggle and angst provided the sobering focal point of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra's long, but never tiring, concert Saturday in Friedberg Hall.
Tears of Eros, a study in ominous sound and motion composed this year by Peabody alum Jason Anthony Allen, opened the program. Thickly orchestrated chords churn their way slowly through underlined emotions before reaching a fade-out tinged with sad resignation. The music is surely written, if not always distinctively; it loses its tensile quality after a while, with atmosphere superseding thematic or expressive activity.
Conductor Erin Freeman did not always hold the orchestra together, but made the score's most emphatic moments speak.
Hajime Teri Murai took the podium for the remainder of the concert, which included a rare performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 6. It's impossible not to hear a hideous aftertaste of World War II in this masterwork, which was finished in 1947 (and revised three years later). With its pent-up anger, sardonic outbursts and, ultimately, sheer desolation, the symphony achieves a profundity on par with - and often has the orchestral coloring of - the music of Dmitri Shostakovich.
Murai never let up on the tension as he drew a committed, mostly firm response from the orchestra. The cello section, in particular, produced a richly communicative sound. This was one of those times when it was easy to forget that a student orchestra was onstage.
Likewise, it was easy to imagine Igor Yuzefovich had already put schooling far behind him when this grad student in his early 20s took on Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1. Yuzefovich, winner of the Yale Gordon Concerto Competition at Peabody, revealed a warm, sizable tone and the interpretive instincts of a seasoned pro. A few technical details, mainly involving passages in the violin's upper register, could have been cleaner, but this was very solid, classy fiddle-playing.
Yuzefovich burrowed into this brooding music, making the long cadenza as riveting and revealing as the most eloquent soliloquy by Shakespeare. The violinist's dash through the finale had a terrific bite that sent the audience roaring afterward.
Murai provided tight support and the young players acquitted themselves smartly. The concert really did not need another note, and Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance by Samuel Barber, which followed, could not help but be anticlimactic. But it was worth being reminded how much drama and lyricism is packed into that 13-minute piece, which the orchestra delivered with sufficient heft and skill under Murai's propulsive guidance.