The NC Mozart Festival, an outgrowth of the NC Chamber Players of long ago, several times removed, has transformed itself once again, under the leadership of former NC Symphony clarinetist Don Martin, and is now the Edwards Mill Music and Arts Festival, based at Cardinal Gibbons High School, on Edwards Mill Road. On the evening of November 13, the second of two public concerts was presented in the school's Theater, which is basically a wide auditorium with a very low platform for the artists. It was a bit of a dog and pony show, in the sense that there was some of this and some of that, performed by students and guest artists. The highlight of the evening, by miles and miles, was the first performance of a violin concerto ("after Haydn and Mozart") by Joel Smith, a student at the school, which was apparently written for his classmate, the remarkably adept violinist Ashley Martin, daughter of Don, whose recent performance with the Durham Symphony was reviewed in these pages last week.
For the record, the concert was something of a family affair, since Don Martin directed the school's Wind Ensemble selections (by Offenbach, and arranged by Ticelli), and among the several adult augmentees of the wind band was David Martin (Don's brother), who then led the first of two performances of music by Mozart – a lively Allegro – played by a nine-person group. Don M. returned to conduct the attractive Divertimento, K.247, with the distinguished violinist Izabela Cohen as leader, joined by other area professionals (not all of whom are members of the NC Symphony, as the program indicated) and by Ashley Martin, too.
The premiere took place at the start of the concert's second half. The music is derivative but not directly copied from anything this listener could quote specifically. Rather, it's a stylistic imitation, and that's not a bad way to start – many distinguished composers began their careers in this way. The piece is put together with imagination and evident skill, and it was handsomely played by Ashley Martin, who brought her winning ways to bear on the solo passages and the brief but fiery cadenzas. The accompaniment – four violins, two violas, cello, bass, oboe, and two horns – was polished enough, and Smith seemed to obtain the results he desired. It's not everyday that a budding composer has the benefit of hearing his music played by professionals – and under his own direction, too – so this was a noteworthy deal, all 'round. The responses – to this and to the program's other components – were rapturous; the first movement was applauded, the second would have been had not Smith kept his hands in the air, and at the end the crowd went wild with appreciation. It was a bit of an anticlimax to have this be followed by an Irish stepdance troupe (the Danny Tighe Irish Dancers), accompanied by a live orchestra (including Ashley M. on an electronic fiddle), but this grand finale brought back many of the young musicians who had performed earlier, and it served as an exciting cap for a full evening. Clearly, there's a lot going on at Cardinal Gibbons. We'll try to include its activities in future calendars, for sure.