Technically, 18-year-old Colton Peltier is still a music student. The school he attends, however, is that elite performing arts institution, Juilliard, and Peltier was a child prodigy. He entered his first piano competition at 9. He’s been performing with orchestras since he was 10.
Peltier made his Louisiana debut Thursday night with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra at the River Center Theatre. Performing Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, he demonstrated the second-nature facility that comes from studying seriously with an excellent teacher from a very early age.
Peltier began piano studies at 3. Even a few years beyond 3 is probably too late to develop a virtuoso instrumentalist.
The sunny energy in Grieg’s tuneful piano concerto suits Peltier well. He opened the piece with dramatic solo flair. The orchestra, conducted by music director Timothy Muffitt, followed the soloist’s bold introduction with the concerto’s heroic opening theme.
Peltier soon claimed the theme for himself, expanding it with verve before the orchestra introduced a second theme, a placid melody played by the cellos.
In the concerto’s first movement, marked allegro molto moderato, the soloist displayed his fluid technique at keyboard. Technically good as he is, Peltier also exploited the expressive potential in Grieg’s emotional Romantic music. Having sparkled in animated sections of the concerto, he moved convincingly on to tragic passages in the cadenza.
Choral-style strings opened the concerto’s much calmer second movement. Grieg wrote many vocal compositions throughout his career, and his knack for the genre showed in the orchestra’s performance. An overplayed solo entrance from the wind ensemble, however, temporarily broke the intended reverie.
Even in the concerto’s slow middle movement, Peltier had multiple opportunities to display his keyboard dexterity. He did so especially through trills and liquid glissandos. Dance rhythm, a quick tempo and massive volume made the Grieg concerto’s third movement exciting, but the piece rushed too quickly forward at a breakneck pace.
Muffitt took the unusual step of introducing Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor. The composer, he explained, worked within the creativity-suppressing Communist system that ruled the former Soviet Union. Symphony No. 10, the conductor added, is a remarkable journey.
Shostakovich’s variously brooding, violent symphony has been subject to many interpretations, including that of allegory for life beneath the Soviet boot.
Ominously low strings and wary higher strings in Symphony No. 10’s opening movement suggested tension and fear. Ranging from pensive to explosive, the nearly half-hour first movement, featuring five percussionists, is itself a harrowing journey.
Militaristic snare drum and shattering cymbals filled the frenzied second movement. Exotic colors of the orchestra’s woodwinds played a starring role in the third movement, giving the music the atmosphere of a macabre dance.
The mood in the concluding fourth movement swung from the somber discomfort to bright action. Contrasting soft-loud dynamics were especially dramatic as Muffitt and the musicians successfully tackled another large, complex piece from the orchestral repertoire.