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The Philharmonic Association doesn't mess around when it comes to partying, and why should it, given that its extensive musical membership has youth, vigor, enthusiasm, and curiosity on its side? Plus it's not every day that one can celebrate 350 years of anything. And without the PA, who'd have known? North Carolina's 350th has garnered hardly a raised eyebrow of interest, aside from a few little events at historic sites.*
The occasion was the 350th anniversary of the Carolina Charter, the document signed by Charles II that carved out the territory now more or less occupied by North and South Carolina, Georgia, and a little more. Colonial "birthers" who doubt the authenticity of the charter may see a picture of it here.
The PA, our state's largest aggregation of youth performing ensembles, comprises three full orchestras, two jazz ensembles, four string ensembles, three semi-permanent chamber groups, and more, so the resources are there to hatch and nurture a four-day musical extravaganza celebrating NC history. Naturally, this centered on NC composers, and the true touchstones of art music in our state figured prominently: Hunter Johnson (1906-1998), our Benson-born composer laureate, renowned for Letter to the World; Lamar Stringfield (1897-1959) of Raleigh, remembered for the original Lost Colony music and for founding several orchestras, including the NC Symphony (with the help of LC playwright Paul Green); Robert Ward (1917-2013), the Ohio-born composer, conductor, and educator who spent the second half of his life in NC, heading the NC School of the Arts after capturing the Pulitzer Prize for The Crucible; and Terry Mizesko (b.1946, in Morehead City), the long-time NC Symphony bass trombonist whose newest work, Tuscarora, celebrating one of our state's earliest native groups, was premiered during the festival. Along the way was still more of interest to Tar Heels: music from Unto these Hills, one of our Western NC outdoor dramas, and a screening of the one-act opera The Sojourner and Molly Sinclair as telecast by UNC-TV during the 300th anniversary celebrations. This is based on an NC theme, although the composer is Carlisle Floyd (b.1926). He hails from Latta, SC, but that's more than close enough for us to claim him, under the broad scope of that original charter. And last but hardly least, a new book on the Tuscarora debuted more or less in conjunction with the PA's celebration, and its author, David LaVere, did a reading and spoke at the start of the festival, making it a lavish five-day affair!
The musical portion of the festival began on November 23 at William Peace University, where Rep. Duane Hall (D-Wake) provided a warm and official welcome, touting the importance of the arts in all our lives. The program itself encompassed chamber music by Johnson, Stringfield, and Ward, and an aria from Floyd's opera, performed, variously, by student musicians from the PA and guests Ella Ann Holding, piano, and Alicia Reid, soprano. (The Johnson pieces figured in an admirable Albany CD devoted to the composer's music, released in 1991.) There were also admirable introductory remarks, introducing the composers, by Holding (on Johnson), Deborah Nelson (librarian of the NC Symphony, on Stringfield), Robert Galbraith (singer and director, on Floyd), and Scott Tilley (pianist, conductor, and composer, on Ward). Even people who were already familiar with these composers surely learned a lot from the remarks, and the performances were uniformly excellent.
The following afternoon, in Meymandi Concert Hall, Hugh Partridge directed the Triangle Youth Philharmonic in an important concert of music by Ward and Johnson, significantly augmented by the world premiere of Mizesko's new work celebrating the Tuscarora Nation. To begin, Ward's "City of Oaks," a 2007 commission from the NC Symphony that celebrates Raleigh, was led with considerable flair and effectiveness by guest conductor Rashad Hayward, a recent UNCSA grad and dazzling clarinetist. Partridge then took the reins for Johnson's multi-part North State, commissioned by the same tercentennial group that produced Floyd's opera. (Imagine that! Two government commissions in NC for a single event!) The music is tricky and, in manuscript, not all that easy to read, either, but the musicians gave a convincing account of it, and it was a treat to hear one of Johnson's larger-scale pieces. Well done!
The new work** depicts mood a good deal more than historical facts, and of course there are no documented tunes to quote from that period, but Mizesko admirably introduces the music with calm, reflective sounds featuring flute and other woodwinds in "Pre-Columbian People of the Coastal Plain." "Land between the Rivers," more richly scored, remains somber and apprehensive but becomes increasingly agitated, leading to "The Massacre at Nooherooka" (outside present-day Snow Hill) and then on to the sad aftermath, subtitled "Defeat and Despair; The Great Spirit Sees All"; [&] A Sign of Hope: The Trek Northward." This substantial work lasts about 24 minutes, played without pause, and is more than worthy of the historic importance of its subject. Mizesko spent years in the orchestral trenches, listening for long stretches between the notes he had to play. He's clearly absorbed the art and craft of composition and orchestration and speaks at this point in his career with an ever-increasingly individual and often distinctive voice. The performance – by a stage-filling orchestra of around 100 players, deftly led by Partridge – was outstanding.
The following night (that would be the cold evening of November 25), there was a screening in the Raleigh Little Theatre's Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre of the long-lost video recording of the Floyd opera that had been premiered in the main hall there 50 years ago and then recorded in the old UNC-TV studio on Western Boulevard. (The building is still in use, but for another purpose.) This was akin to opening a time capsule, as Julius Rudel (longtime General Director of the New York City Opera) led an orchestra and chorus from ECU (well, ECTC back then) and a distinguished cast, headed by Patricia Neway and Norman Treigle and including Anne Hearne Moss, William Newberry, and Jerold Teachey. The (black & white) film is in fine condition, overall, the production more than adequately conveys the (NC) story, and the singing is consistently rewarding. (A CD, published by VAI, should be readily available from the usual online sources; we may hope the video will at some point appear as well.) Much as we hated missing NC Opera's new work at CAM Raleigh (reviewed here), this special encore presentation of Sojourner…, found among the papers of the commissioning authority in the state archives, downtown, by the Partridge family (no pun intended – Hugh's other half is the PA's executive director) was not to be missed!
The festival reached its conclusion with two short programs on November 26 involving the PA's other orchestras, both of which filled the Meymandi stage with eager and enthusiastic young musicians, some of whom will move on to bigger and better things, thus assuring the future of this admirable educational program and of the art all of us, collectively, seek to serve. The historic celebration theme was preserved in both sets of offerings. For openers, the Triangle Youth Orchestra performed a Queen Anne suite, a barcarolle (from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann), an American hymn, and an overture named "Caravelle" that conjured up images – real or imagined – of sailing ships of yore. Tim Kohring is this ensemble's conductor, ably assisted by Jacob Wenger (who directed the barcarolle).
After a pause, the evening continued with the Triangle Youth Symphony presenting final salutes to Stringfield and Ward – the former's "Cripple Creek," from the Southern Mountains suite (1928) that captured the attention of the Pulitzers in the form of a "Traveling Fellowship," 15 years before the prize in music was formally established – and Ward's generally festive Western Set (1989), based on music from the opera Lady Kate. This served as a very grand finale indeed, but before it came the evening's great curiosity: the Overture to Unto These Hills, NC's second most famous outdoor drama, after Lost Colony, (Both predate Horn in the West.) This music was composed by Jack F. Kilpatrick, a pioneering Native American (Cherokee, Western Band) composer, and edited and orchestrated by two former music directors of the show, one of which was the TYS's current conductor, C. McCrae Hardy, whose incisive and intense leadership brought this and the other scores to vivid life.
Let the public at large take note: this festival was, as Ed Sullivan would surely have said, a really big [deal of a] show, and the orchestral components thereof drew large crowds of enthusiastic friends and family members, mostly. The series was a look back at our history as reflected in some relatively recent compositions by men (they were all men…) who lived and worked in our fair state. The people who played all this music give us a look forward, for they represent hope for our cultural future. Those of us who care about all this owe it to the participants to support these programs. The next ones will be in Cary on December 15 and then in the spring; see our calendar for details. And meanwhile, bravo, all!
*An op-ed in the N&O lamented the near-universal oversight of this milestone anniversary; we can hope that its author took in the PA's festival and was as pleased and proud as those who attended some or all of the events!
**With thanks to Mizesko and with his permission, we reprint below his essay on the new composition as distributed at the concert during which it was premiered;
The Tuscarora were a pre-Colombian people living in the coastal plain of what is now North Carolina, between the Roanoke and Cape Fear Rivers. A newspaper article in 2006, about the Neusiok trail along the Neuse River in the Croatan Forest, first piqued my interest. Further research and reading led me to several articles about the Tuscarora people who had lived in the coastal plains for untold generations before the first European colonizers had ever set foot in the "new world." Having grown up and been educated in North Carolina, I had never heard nor read of the Tuscarora history. I wanted to honor the people of this tribe and felt that their story would be a great one for a large scale musical work. The opportunity came in the summer of 2012 from a commission by Hugh Partridge and the Triangle Youth Philharmonic; what has emerged is this work, Tuscarora, which I call a music saga. The term "music saga" seemed a far nobler term than the oft used "tone poem."
The piece is in four seamless sections: I. Pre Colombian people of the coastal plain, II. Land between the rivers, III. The massacre at Nooherooka, IV. The trek North.
There are two things the listener should be aware of: 1. The music is not specifically depictive. I only seek to put the listener in a state of mind to conjure his/her own images. 2. I have not used historical musical styles, rhythms or instruments – that is for a Tuscaroran to do. Nor will one hear a Hollywood version of "Indian Drums." It is my music, my style and my tribute to the Tuscarora.
The piece opens with a bird call – the white throated sparrow, played by the piccolo. I first heard the call this past spring outside my home for a period of several days. The natural clarity and brilliance of this "tune" seemed a fitting introduction. Following, is the "Tuscarora" theme in the solo horn and strings. This theme is used in part or whole and in several variants throughout the piece. Later, a rising and falling thematic fragment in the basses and celli outlines a pentatonic scale. The first section proper then begins, using all three of these melodic elements in a vigorous, physical 6/8 meter to define the Tuscaroran people. There are several strophes, each answered by a ritornello fashioned from the bird call. The music becomes increasingly intense driven by a dotted rhythmic pattern throughout the orchestra and ends haltingly, becoming gradually softer before transitioning to the next section.
The "Land Between the Rivers" is a musical description of the natural landscape of the area with its slow moving meandering rivers and virgin long leaf pine forests. It features first the strings, later joined by the woodwinds and horn, and finally the low brass, ending with an imitative call between the horns and woodwinds that reflects the grandeur of nature.
The third section, "The Massacre at Nooherooka", again is not specifically descriptive, nor is it pertinent to any particular time and place. It is instead an indictment of the nature of war, of its senselessness and absurdity, its utter horror and destruction, and of the unyielding hold that it seems to have among humans. This section opens with a fugue in the strings, beginning quietly and slowly. As other voices join in, the rhythmic ostinato of the countersubject becomes more and more prominent.
The music grows in intensity and volume with the countersubject pounding out an incessant rhythm. This leads to the death march, "Marcia di Morte." All the themes in this march are derived from the fugue. It is dark and unrelenting, interrupted only by a frenetic section in the strings. I chose this death march not only to portray the fear that war creates, but more so to mock the pomp and pageantry of military parades that so often mask the true destructive nature of war. The section ends not loudly and victoriously, but quietly and despairingly.
The final section begins mournfully with a solo horn stating the Tuscarora theme over a pedal C in the celli and basses, and beneath a forlorn ostinato in the violins. This transitions into a brief quiet dialogue between violas and violins that leads us to the finale, a slow upward reaching lyrical quest for a better life in the North. As the music reaches its climax, the call and response between horns and woodwinds from "Land Between the Rivers" is restated, as is a final Tuscarora theme from the celli. The piece ends quietly as the Tuscarora have left the Carolinas.
The piece is dedicated to Hugh Partridge, founder and music director of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, for his many years of working with young musicians of the Triangle area. I would also like to thank the musicians of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic for playing my music with enthusiasm and excitement. Working with them in rehearsals has been so rewarding for me, personally. They are a true jewel of the Triangle.
© 2013 Terry Mizesko