For 14 years, the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, the flagship ensemble of the Philharmonic Association, has been growing apace, and over time it has become a major musical and educational entity. That this has happened while music in our schools has been increasingly marginalized is nothing short of amazing, and that the TYP's governing body now fields not one but three orchestras should give pause to the policy-makers whose decisions have led to the erosion of such "non-essentials" as music.
The TYP has grown not only in size but also in overall musical competence, too. That's a result of several things, including its leader, Hugh Partridge, who is one of our most reliable orchestral players, who cherishes chamber music and revels in it whenever he can, and who is surely one of our finest pedagogues, too. His approach to leading his TYP charges, as witnessed on the afternoon of November 24, in Meymandi Concert Hall, is precisely what the young musicians would appear to need at their present stage of development. He beats wonderfully clear patterns, he uses his left hand for expression and dynamics, which are often quite miraculously shaded, and he seems never to miss a cue. That the members of the TYP are not seasoned professionals is often apparent, in the occasional ragged attack or release, in the even less rare premature squawk, in some scrambling of ensemble from time to time. All these issues are however almost invariably offset by flawless execution of passages where repeats are involved and by the group's uncanny ability to recover quickly and keep moving ahead. Another key to the success of the TYP must be the existence of the Philharmonic Association's other two orchestras, the best players from which can and often do move up to the "senior" group. Just think how much more effective the work of these students and their respective teachers and the encouragement of their parents would be if their collective efforts were supported as well within all our schools!
It is worth mentioning, too, that the TYP's programs have, over time, become ever more ambitious and challenging to the players. On this latest occasion, for example, the program began with Walton's "Crown Imperial" March, which (without much fanfare aside from the musical variety) paid tribute to the TYP's sister orchestra, in Hull, England. Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony followed, and the second half was devoted to Dvorák's "New World" Symphony. Now lest any jaded readers sniff about war horses, it's worth remembering that these youngsters probably haven't heard the "Surprise" or the "New World" as often as some members of their audience, and that, for them, these are still relatively new and fresh discoveries. Certainly, the realizations of the larger scores bore this out. The Haydn was somewhat deliberately paced, but the tempi did not do it a great disservice, and the slow movement was one of the most eloquent and moving bits of superior Haydn playing heard hereabouts in a long time. (Granted, there's not much Haydn going on in area concert halls...; more's the pity.) It was also a treat to luxuriate in the large orchestral sound. The TYP boasts nearly 60 strings, and it doesn't take a NASA scientist to know that with every extra stand above the (regional) norm, the odds of hearing those strings, and of minimizing problems involving balance with the other sections, increase exponentially. The strings sounded quite wonderful, most of the time, and the winds and horns and brass were there with them, nearly all the time.
After the intermission, Partridge addressed the audience to introduce a special guest who was seated in the (as it were) royal box. Maxine Swalin, widely acknowledged to be the Mother of the NC Symphony and the principal architect of its own outstanding educational program, was recognized for her many accomplishments in the Tar Heel State since the mid-'30s, and the TYP's performance of the "New World" was dedicated to her. As readers of our news column know, she missed her 99th birthday party last spring because she was badly clobbered in a traffic accident. That she is back "on the circuit" is ample reason for celebration, and incidentally plans for celebrating her 100th birthday next May are already underway.
The Dvorák was another kettle of mostly tasty fish, although there were more solos and there were a few problems with the execution of some of them. The conservative tempi seemed often too slow, but again it was clear that Maestro Partridge had a long view of the score, and the overall results were refreshing in many ways. It's no longer an every-day thing when a conductor - any conductor - views a substantial work (this one lasts 40 minutes) as a complete entity, as opposed to a series of discrete movements. The slow movement was, again, a thing of great beauty, although at times its animation seemed almost suspended. In contrast, the Scherzo was, well, leisurely - no stickwaver conversant with Czech orchestral traditions would have attempted it so slowly unless, of course, he/she was leading a group of enthusiastic, eager young people through it in public for the first time. But the wisdom of Partridge's approach became manifest in the finale, which exuded a rare combination of power and inevitability.
The crowd responded warmly, and the TYP's Artistic Director was unfailingly generous in deflecting the accolades to the members of his outstanding orchestra.
The other two PA orchestras - the Triangle Youth Orchestra (conducted by Andrew McAfee and Jeremy R. Gibbs) and the Triangle Youth Symphony (conducted by Tony Robinson and Marta C. Findlay-Partridge) will perform in Meymandi Concert Hall on the evening this review is posted, Tuesday, November 26, starting at 7:00 p.m.