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Everywhere one reads gloomy reports of economic woes and cutbacks, but the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, which isn't exactly in high cotton, is doing a lot of things right, given its overall situation. This year, the orchestra offers regular classical concerts, family concerts, and an admirable series of chamber programs, the first of which was presented on September 27 in Raleigh's newest performance venue, Bösendorfer Hall. It's a small room, graced, of course, with outstanding pianos (the hall is in the Ruggero Piano shop, and Ruggero is NC's only Bösendorfer dealer), and it's starting to be used from time to time by astute presenters, including the RSO and the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild. Overtones, a chamber music series, is based there, and Bösendorfer Hall is also the home of the Fourth Friday Mix series, which is being covered by CVNC .
The RSO Chamber Players' program was titled "Music of the Americas 2003-2004," and the cover of the printed brochure cited the names of composers whose music will be given this season, in the series' three concerts. Patrons who read the cover may have wondered why works by Piazzolla, Raum and Bernstein weren't played, but they're coming - later this year. There was plenty as it was in the generous program, and the event was noteworthy in several respects, not least of which is that eight artists, variously arrayed, were involved - this is a programming luxury that only a resident orchestra can achieve. The results were richly varied and consistently engaging, and the success of the program bodes well for the future of the enterprise. It may be worth noting, too, that several of the composers whose music is being featured in the series will be represented on more than one program, so area music lovers have a comparatively rare opportunity to get to know the work of mostly contemporary (and mostly 20th-century) creators in relative depth. This is a coup of great merit on the part of the organizer of the series, composer and pianist Lanette Lind.
The 4:00 p.m. concert got underway with the Fantasy Trio of Robert Muczynski, a finely wrought piece that reflects the passion and energy of our half of the globe. The opening movement is bright, angular, and forceful. The moving slow movement begins with a lovely cello solo. The short, whimsical slow movement leads to a vibrant finale, introduced again by the cello; there's a slightly melancholy overtone but the piece is mostly emphatic, and it was warmly applauded. The players were Jim Williams, clarinet, Jane Salemson, cello, and Lanette Lind, and the sense of ensemble the three projected was outstanding.
Richard Faith's lovely Rhapsody, for violin and piano, introduced violinist Yang Xi, the RSO's Assistant Concertmaster. His reputation preceded him - reviews of his work in Florida turned out to be refreshingly accurate predictors of his excellence. Lind partnered the violinist, and the three-movement piece, which in many respects seemed more like a sonata than a rhapsody, unfolded impressively. Faith's music has figured in previous RSO programs; the composer can spin out some lovely melodic lines, admirably supported, and that was certainly true in this work.
The first part ended with Lowell Liebermann's Flute Sonata, handsomely realized by Patty Angevine and Lind. It, too, is drenched with lovely melodies, and it, too, was well received. Curiously, it seemed more like a rhapsody than a sonata, but nonetheless it was spellbinding as presented on this occasion.
The centerpiece of the afternoon occurred after the intermission with the premiere of Lind's "Morgan's Friend," a short work in three movements written in memory of Barbara Beaumont Cole, who introduced the Morgan horse to North Carolina. As it happened, the Coles were friends of my family, and I well remember Katie Twilight, the wonderful mare whose foals were, we believe, the first Morgans born in North Carolina. Cole was a great horsewoman, and her pioneering work here lives on in many fans of Justin Morgan's gentle breed. Philosopher James Lawrence Cole, her husband, commissioned the piece in Barbara's memory, and the work, scored for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, bass, and piano, spoke - to me, at least - of the breadth and depth of our country and our indomitable spirit. Like Morgan horses, the music is at once gentle, amiable, and playful. After a slow first section, one can imagine Katie kicking up her heels in her paddock as the sun begins to rise, serenaded, perhaps, by musicians from some figurative nearby town - there are some delightful little solos for viola, violin, and other players. The finale is again slow, elegiac, and hauntingly beautiful, perhaps reflecting the coming of dusk. The players were Angevine, Williams, Xi, Michael Castelo (viola), Salemson, Dan Zehr (bass), and Lind, and the crowd, which included a large contingent of members of the Concert Singers of Cary, of which Jim Cole is a member, gave the music and its creator a warm round of applause. (Since I have already made some personal references to the Coles I feel compelled to add here that they were more than just friends of my family - Jim introduced me to the music of Charles Ives and played a larger role in my musical development than he may realize.)
"Morgan's Friend" was preceded by a reading of Pablo Neruda's "Ode to a Few Yellow Flowers," given by Teresa Fernandez, with a translation read by Harrison Fisher, and Ruth Ogle's painting "Autumn Gold" was in the lobby, by the entrance to the hall. The poem and the painting further enhanced the autumnal nature of the premiere.
The concert ended on a lighter note, with music from the Southern Hemisphere. An arrangement by Fisher of Villa Lobos' Fifth Bachiana brasiliera was sung by Fernandez and accompanied by the aforementioned strings, Lind, and percussionist Vince Moss, and the Brazilian master's "Cançao de cristal" was given, too, by Fernandez and Lind. The grand finale was an arrangement, again by Fisher, of the familiar Andean folksong "El Condor Pasa," accompanied by the entire group of players, with Angevine and Williams switching over to recorders, which gave the piece a measure of quasi-authenticity. Fernandez and some of the other artists will figure in the remaining programs this season.
For the record, our community orchestras in general and the RSO in particular present attractive programs that don't routinely duplicate the standard repertory. They are the backbones of instrumental music in our communities, providing performance opportunities for what we used to call amateurs - people who are in large measure professionally trained but who don't do music full-time. Instead, they live and work here, and their musical activities almost invariably reflect the root word of "amateur" - love. They merit our attention and our support.