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Orchestral Music Review Print

The Raleigh Symphony's Annual "Rising Stars" Concert

May 3, 2009 - Raleigh, NC:

For years, the Raleigh Symphony has been providing incredible services to music in our community. The ways in which the RSO does this are varied, quite beyond providing performance opportunities for student and adult musicians, but one of its most important undertakings is the annual concerto competition and the subscription series evening concert that follows it, in which the year’s winners are featured. Sometimes it is both blessing and curse, for every so often the young artists – this year’s ranged from high school juniors to college seniors – are so good that one wants to hear more than just a single movement of whatever concerto they’ve selected. (There were several such cases this year.)

The concert got underway with Music Director Alan Neilson leading a stirring rendition of the Overture to Rosamunde by Schubert (and never mind that it was originally intended – as the concise program notes reminded us – for a production of Die Zauberharfe). The orchestra sounded wonderful, as it almost invariably does in Meredith’s Jones Auditorium, where the Maestro has learned to maximize the acoustics of the hall by putting the first couple of rows of strings – violins on the left, cellos on the right as you face the stage – forward of the proscenium arch, a little sonic trick that gives the strings a sense of immediacy and presence, as heard in the hall.

Neilson continued with two concerto selections, both involving violinists. First up was Janice Lee, a senior at ECU, where she studies with Ara Gregorian. She performed the first movement of Samuel Barber’s radiant Violin Concerto, in the process providing one of those “ah-ha!” moments: this was another occasion when we were sad to have her stop playing, so compelling were her performance and interpretation. The orchestra was “there” with her, too, so this set very high standards right from the beginning.

Next was Victoria Pedroza, a junior in high school whose work with the Triangle Youth Philharmonic was cited just several months ago in these pages. She played the first movement of Lalo’s Symphonie espanole, a once ubiquitous work now rarely encountered in live performances. The soloist’s tone was pleasing, and she handled the music well, but she was a ball of perpetual motion and it ultimately became distracting to watch her play – some work on stage deportment would be a big help.

RSO Assistant Conductor James Waddelow, of the Meredith College music faculty, led the orchestra for Erica Boysen’s lovely performance of the finale of Jacques Ibert’s Flute Concerto. She is a college junior at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she works with Tadeu Coelho.  Like her teacher, she is a polished and confident artist already, and she’s blessed with quite remarkable physical restraint, too, putting all her energy and emotion into her playing and showing little wasted motion.

Assistant Conductor (and violinist and violist) Xi Yang (yes, this community orchestra has two assistants!) brought the first half of the program to a close by leading the orchestra in Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen,” for which the soloist was high school senior Bobby Lam, a student of RSO violinist Izabela Spiewak. He dazzled the crowd with pyrotechnics at the end of the showpiece, but it was his thoughtful slow introduction that most impressed this listener.

After the intermission, which allowed for resetting the stage with a Yamaha grand, the program ended with substantial piano concerto movements – from Saint-Saëns’ Second, Op. 22, and from MacDowell’s Second, Op. 23. (The consecutive opus numbers is purely coincidental.) The French work was played by Valerie Chiang, a high school junior who studies with John Ruggero, of Raleigh. The rarely-heard American work was played by Claire Brown, of Raleigh, a high school junior who studies with Thomas Otten, of UNC. Neilson conducted the first of these, and Waddelow conducted the second. Both performances were admirably rendered by their poised and impressive soloists and handsomely accompanied, too.

It may be worth noting that the balances between the soloists and the orchestra were never out of whack, demonstrating remarkable attentiveness on the parts of all concerned.

After the MacDowell, concert sponsor Benjamin K. Gibbs presented plaques to all the young artists.

There was a reception, too. Three cheers!