As readers who peruse our entire issue this time will doubtless know, the week of October 8 marked the first seasonal spurts of our university-based orchestras. The UNCSO’s concert took place on October 9, and on October 10 there were competing all-Mozart programs by the Duke SO [see companion review in our archives] and the NCSU-based Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra. Back in the Dark Ages of music criticism here, this sort of musical pile-up would have obliged critics to flip coins or scramble to take in rehearsals in order to cover the ground. At CVNC, we are blessed with a permanent staff of four writers and a slowly-increasing group of adjunct professionals, so stay tuned for the kind of coverage that no area paper can provide!

All-Mozart Program No. 1 was presented in Stewart Theatre by the smaller of two ensembles fielded by the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association. It began at 7:00 p.m. in order to accommodate friends of the guest soloist, pianist Vivian Cheng, an 11-year-old student of John Ruggero, the distinguished products of whose Raleigh studio also include Sergiy Komrienko. We had the pleasure of hearing the dress rehearsal of her June recital at Peace College, given when she was just 10, and had therefore keenly anticipated her latest engagement with the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra.

Music Director Randolph Foy cuts his players no slack. He’s presented mini-festivals on several occasions, and this season the RCSA’s two orchestras offer a total of six concerts, the next one coming just a month from now.

The RCCO’s program was skillfully arranged in chronological format and bolstered by some of the best program notes we’ve seen in a long time. It helps that Foy is at once a fine conductor and an outstanding educator; he himself wrote the notes and, in addition, offered cogent spoken remarks at several points during the concert. Those remarks included some gentle suggestions to young people in the audience who may have been attending their first concert, remarks that some of the older citizens present surely took to heart, too, for rarely have we heard such a quiet, still and respectful audience in Stewart Theatre.

The RCSA’s orchestras exemplify the best in town-&-gown cooperative undertakings. Allowing students to work alongside area professionals is perhaps the best way to instill a love of music and encourage excellence. There are sometimes downsides, and on this occasion the negatives were from time to time apparent in ensemble problems in the opening work, Mozart’s Symphony No. 29. Strings in small quantities (there were 16 this time) can be tantamount to an Achilles’ heel, but the group eventually settled down and overall the performance itself had a great deal going for it. It’s a fact that the current incarnation of the NCSU orchestra, in an earlier edition of which (led by Christian Kutchinski) my mother played when we arrived in Raleigh in the early ’50s, is far and away the best we’ve had here.

The second number was the Serenade No. 12 in C Minor for pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and French horns, quite capably played by Mary Greiner, Holly McGhin, Janice Lipson, Brent Smith, Cynthia Harris, John Caldwell, Ted Gellar and Jacob Medlin. The ensemble was solid, the attacks and releases, clean, and the solo work, including several fine contributions by nominal leader Greiner, was consistently satisfying.

The grand finale was a performance of the Piano Concerto No. 17 in G that involved Cheng. She wore a long white dress with a bow at the back that dangled over the edge of the piano bench, and she looked for all the world like a life-size doll, but the musicianship and feeling she demonstrated were first rate–this was no child’s reading of a classic work! She played the piece from memory, and there were no memory slips. Her interactions with the orchestra were totally professional, and the results were outstanding from start to finish. The slow movement, in particular, received a serenely beautiful reading that would surely have pleased senior professionals working the for-pay circuit. Stewart is a quirky room, and the piano sometimes sounded a bit dull, but experience has taught us that the acoustics can vary widely from one chair to another in the very same row. There were no problems with balance between the piano and the band, and at the end the place erupted with applause that lasted many minutes. This was an auspicious orchestral debut–her first-ever performance with an orchestra–by a young person who has the makings of an important concert artist. Cheng will perform with the Winston-Salem Symphony on March 27 and offers another recital, at St. Mary’s School, in late April.

The program began with the first and fourth verses of “America the Beautiful” being sung by the audience and capably accompanied by the orchestra. Since September 11, this hymn-like song has been well on its way toward replacing the SSB as the National Anthem. There’s something about the lines “Thine alabaster cities gleam/Undimmed by human tears” that seems to strike responsive chords just now, and the fact that the tune is singable helps, too. Its rendition on this occasion was stirring.