A fast ride for the Curtis Orchestra with conductor Juanjo Mena

Oliver Herbert
The Philadelphia Inquirer

A quick spin in a sports car.

Charging giants who turn out to be nothing more than windmills.

The sound when the guillotine falls and a severed head goes bouncing — thump, thump, thump.

Strong imagery flew by in three works Sunday afternoon at the season-opening concert of the Curtis Institute of Music orchestra in Verizon Hall. The pieces were about as programmatic as you can get. Even if John Adams didn't specify an exact journey in his Short Ride in a Fast Machine, essentially a five-minute overture, he has explained the title by asking what it feels like to accept an invitation to ride in a sports car and then live to regret it.


Two students in the Strauss, however, sounded like no students at all. Cellist Oliver Herbert, 20, has already played Don Quixote with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Violist Hae Sue Lee, 17, was his Sancho Panza, and both built character with admirable refinement. In the title role, of course, Herbert has more opportunity, and he indeed plays with all the depth of an established soloist. In the disturbing "The Knight's Vigil" variation, Herbert's playing took on deeply moving vocal inflections in extreme ranges, from a low of unusual richness to a delicate high.
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