Not all the best performances take place in standard concert halls during standard concerts. Ask any musician and you may hear that the dress rehearsal was better or more exiting or inspired than the first or second or third public performance. Thus it should come as no great surprise that great art and great artistry can pop up just about anywhere. It’s a pleasure to report that, at the 17th Annual Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh gala concert, presented at the UUFR on the evening of February 17, there was some very inspired and inspiring music-making amid the cheese cakes, conventional cakes and other comestibles.

Bassist Eric Dyke has been coordinating these annual galas for all these years, and they are surely among the best-kept secrets of the Capital City’s cultural scene. We beg and plead each year for information for our calendar (for whatever paper we happen to be serving), but the Fellowship and its fellows and their friends fill the place up, so there’s not much point in advertising it. Too bad, for at the latest edition we heard some fine performances and met some outstanding artists who are sure to have major impacts on our lives here in the Triangle.

The music ranged from Bach (a flute sonata, played by UNC’s Anne Larson with accompaniment by UNC pianist Beth Tomlin and bassist Dyke) to Handel (the famous Largo, from Xerses, played by Dyke on his 1790 bass) to Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” (courtesy of Shaw pianist Brad Hunnicutt) to an aria from Puccini’s La rondine, ravishingly sung by soprano Erin O’Hara. These were highlights enough from a program that included piano works played by Ardonna Manous, other transcriptions for bass (including some Chopin ditties that brought to mind the late Gerard Hoffnung’s rendition of a mazurka by a consort of four tubas!), some Hoiby songs delivered by soprano Lynda Hambourger, bits of Brahms and film and show music, but the evening’s greatest fireworks came in the second half, wherein Messiaen’s “Le Merle noir” was brilliantly realized by Larson and Tomlin, Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann emerged with astonishing presence under Tomlin’s hands, and the NCS’ new Associate Concertmaster, Jeff Thayer, capped the evening with an almost flawless rendition of Saint-Saëns’ “Havanaise.” (We’ll hear more from him, to be sure, before he moves on to bigger and better things!)

This was a well-attended, elegant and sophisticated soirée that would have delighted any music lover worth his or her salt – and that concurrently must have raised a pretty penny or two for the UUFR. We’ll ping on Dyke earlier next year and try to persuade him to share the date of the 18th edition in time to tell our readers.