Tuesday evening’s Intermezzi program made for yet another successful opening concert for a major Spoleto series. Six days into the festival, it’s safe to say that all things classical are unfolding to the lofty standards we have come to expect during the fest. Each different festival series, of course, is devoted to different sorts of repertoire and purposes, so let me briefly remind you what the Intermezzi series is all about.

The four events — all scheduled for 5 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church — fall into a number of categories. This season, the first two Intermezzi programs offer what the series is best known for, namely showcases for the ever-amazing musicians of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra (SFO). In case you aren’t aware of the SFO’s pedigree, know that these fabulous players are the cream of America’s crop of grad students at the nations tip-top music schools and conservatories, or recent graduates just beginning promising careers. They are truly the orchestral and solo superstars of tomorrow.

In these events, they perform both smaller-scale symphonic works (as in this program) and chamber pieces (second program) that demonstrate these brilliant young performers’ abilities collectively, as a small orchestra, or individually, as chamber musicians and soloists. Otherwise, we’ll get something a little different in the third program, namely Enoch Arden, a concert-length work for narrator and piano of the famous title poem by Tennyson. Finally, there’s the traditional vocal recital with piano, starring outstanding vocalists who also perform in the festival’s opera productions.

Yesterday’s event, entitled Concerto Grosso, offered three choice works for chamber orchestra by two 20-century masters and a contemporary icon. First up was English genius Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonietta, Op. 1, his first published work, written during his student days. The entire piece is more or less based on the theme of the opening horn-call, which Britten transformed into music that demonstrates both his gift for melody and his ability to treat his themes in cunningly complex manner.

As is often typical of Britten, the first movement came across as saucy and a bit flippant, but with a certain unsettled edge to it, despite a pastorally lyrical passage or two. The set of variations that followed were remarkable for their sophistication, with a wide range of tempos and dynamics, plus a few ravishing blooms of sound. The final Tarantella movement offered the headlong, manic drive of the title Italian dance-form, along with passages of mind-bending intricacy. A key characteristic of the entire piece was the ingenious scoring that gave individual players chances to shine in brief solos or small ensemble passages, like duets. Conductor Aik Khai Pung wielded his baton with considerable authority, skillfully bringing out every last sonic glitter and flash of this multifaceted musical gem.

Next we heard Swiss composer Arthur Honegger’s altogether lovely and appealing Concerto da Camera, H. 196, for solo English horn (Lauren Williams) and flute JungHwa Yoo with small orchestra. The opening movement was a gently gracious pastorale that radiated utter contentment, laced with friendly exchanges between the soloists. The slower central movement was more poignant and even a bit melancholic, with longer solo passages and a lovely duet. The finale was a happy, sparkling romp, with touches of wit and whimsy as well as some interesting (and tricky) syncopations. Both soloists performed delightfully, and our evening’s maestro held his forces together beautifully, with technical assurance and interpretive verve.

The program ended with the series’ title work, Concerto Grosso, by Philip Glass, a composer whose music has figured prominently in recent (and not-so-recent) editions of Spoleto. Interestingly, the only designation given to its three movements are their associated metronome markings that simply translate into fast-slow-fast. Essentially a Baroque form, the concerto grosso is a composition in which an ensemble of soloists plays in contrast to, or together with, the main body of the supporting orchestra. In this case, each of the orchestra’s instrumental sections (strings, brasses, woodwinds) took turns functioning as the ensemble of soloists – though the brass section (especially the pair of trumpets) seemed to stand out.

I won’t go into each movement, mostly because (aside from tempos) the music sounded much the same from one to the next. To my ears, that’s the main thing about Glass’s music. Sure, the orchestrations and characteristic sounds may vary, but the music often seems depressingly similar from one work to the next. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Glass’s compositions. They often generate palpable moods and effects that seem to work best in his operas and film scores. I used to be a rabid fan, but now I find it hard to get excited about any new work from Glass.

Still, this piece offered some attractive features, like what I’ll call the “revolving soloists,” as well as the hypnotic feel that Glass’s music often geneerates. It held my attention and interest throughout, but I just couldn’t get excited about it. No complaints, however, about the performance; conductor Pung and company delivered it all flawlessly.

Don’t pass these lovely concerts up. In my fifteen years of regular Spoleto coverage, I have yet to encounter an Intermezzi program that wasn’t worthwhile.

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