Few things are more exciting and satisfying for music lovers than to stumble upon rising virtuosos near the beginning of their ascent. During the 2003 Eastern Music Festival, I chronicled the artistic growth of violinist Stefani Collins, first in a master class given by Pamela Frank and, later, when she played the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto as a winner of the EMF's Student Concerto Competition. On March 30, 2004, Collins became the first winner of the North Carolina Symphony-North Carolina School of the Arts Concerto Competition. Her prize included four performances with the NCS on tour. I caught her appearance in High Point, where the Community Concert Association is celebrating its 70th year. The September 25 concert took place in the charming and acoustically perfect Hayworth Fine Arts Center on the campus of High Point University.
Collins, a tenth grader in the NCSA School of Music, brought a musical sophistication beyond her years to the delightful Violin Concerto in A Minor by Antonín Dvorák. She played with assurance, producing firm and full tone. Beyond getting all the notes in place, she phrased with a fine sense of style and projected a refined palette of timbres. Her intonation in exposed high notes was impeccable. Dvorák filled the score with chamber music-like episodes between the soloist and various orchestra members, especially the woodwinds. Collins was clearly listening to her colleagues. Her "duet" with Michael Schultz's mellow oboe was a highlight, as was an exposed violin solo above a gorgeously even, long-held horn note provided by Kimberly Van Pelt. Resident Conductor William Henry Curry elicited a well-balanced orchestral framework that fit Collins' interpretation like a glove. The Greensboro native ought to have a very promising future.
The orchestra's performances of Haydn's Symphony No. 104 in D ("London") during Music Director Grant Llewellyn's inaugural concerts in Raleigh were revelatory and marked a higher standard for the future. All the many virtues of that performance - true classical style, tight ensemble, and polished playing - were present in Curry's interpretation. The main differences were his reversion to the older, undivided violin section seating and his securing a plusher string sound.
The wonderful acoustics of the new 500-seat European-style horseshoe-shaped hall played no small role in the pleasures of this concert. While you probably could hear a pin drop in Raleigh's Meymandi Hall, it still needs some tweaking to reduce attenuation of some of the richness of the lower strings. It augured well when the opening words of welcome from a High Point series spokesperson were readily understood without any miking. During the concert, the string sound of the NCS sounded lush and full as never before. The "Polonaise" from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin, Op. 24, was delightful, and a featured section for the massed cellos was breathtaking. The rhythms were well sprung and vital. Almost every section was featured in the course of the "Polovstian Dances," from Borodin's Prince Igor. Principal Oboist Melanie Wilsden phrased the well-known "Stranger in Paradise" tune wonderfully. There were important contributions from Principal Clarinetist Jimmy Gilmore, an unidentified bass clarinetist, Principal Flute Anne Whaley Laney, harpist Anita Burroughs-Price, and from Schultz, this time playing English horn. The brasses were in top form all evening.