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Chamber Orchestra Review Print

Meredith's Sweet Strings

April 29, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:

About 70 people were present in Meredith's Carswell Recital Hall for the hour-long April 29 performance of the school's young twelve-member String Orchestra under the baton of its director, Jack Roller, with Kent Lyman as guest pianist for the central one of the five pieces presented.

Bach's "Komm, süsser Tod," S.478, as arranged by Elkan, was an appropriate calm opener for a pleasant program that was overall very much in the quiet mode. Both ensemble and intonation were good once the tentativeness of the start was overcome. Ernst Krenek's "Sieben leichte Stücke," a 12-tone serial work, followed; it was not as stark a contrast as might have been expected. It was precisely and accurately played.

Lyman joined the group for a lovely rendition of Gerald Finzi's pastoral "Eclogue," Op. 10 (1929), originally intended as the slow movement of a piano concerto. Like so much of this composer's music, it begins softly, builds to a climax, and then recedes again, often alternating between soloist and orchestra. When playing at the same time, the musicians matched their sound well. This, the nicest performance of the evening, was a true delight with rich, full sound.

Elgar's "Elegy," Op. 58 (1909) followed, perhaps not to its best advantage. The performance was good, but the piece seemed the least successful of the evening, perhaps due to its placement or to the amount of time devoted to its rehearsal. Holst's St. Paul's Suite , Op. 29, No. 2 (1912-13),brought the program to a somewhat more rousing close. It is a standard set of four movements: the Jig was taut; the Ostinato, smooth; the Intermezzo sang; and the Dargason danced. Concertmistress Beth King shone in her several solo moments.

It is not easy to play this sort of music. What is gained with slower tempi in avoiding opportunities to get lost or out of step with the others is counterbalanced by opportunities for a sustained wrong note or poor intonation to stick out like a sore thumb. It was risky to program an evening that was so heavily pastoral. The group rose to the challenge and did a fine job.

Prior to the last piece, Roller acknowledged the graduating members: concertmistress King, principal second violin Valerie Brantley, and bassist Mary Allison Nunnery. The other players were: Charity Vogt and Myangela Purcell, violin I; Melissa Pendergraft and Betty Meikle, violin II; Charity Dunn and Rebecca Perkinson, viola; and cellists Meaghan O'Shea, Jessica Jones and Jessica Ingram. This group is only two years old, and it has come a long way in a short time. It has both expanded in size and grown in quality, and is likely to continue to do so. Apparently five new players will be joining in the fall. You can scratch the notion of scratchy violins; not from these gals!

Unfortunately, as is all too often the case at Meredith, especially at student recitals, the printed program was far too bare bones. Life dates were missing for two of the five composers represented; the name of a third was misspelled. There were virtually no Opus or other reference numbers, or dates of composition given for the works (supplied above insofar as possible, the Krenek, most likely 1956, not being readily confirmed-it required about ten minutes of research on the Internet). There were no notes concerning either the composers or the works. Roller gave some cursory oral comments about some of them after the first piece, in reverse order of performance, and saying merely that they were well-known in the case of a couple. This is not a good example to be setting in an institution of higher learning. It is important to play the music well. It is also important to ensure that the listeners know something about the music being played so that they can understand and appreciate it as much as possible. No matter how well known a piece is, there is someone who doesn't know it yet, and that person may be in the audience. Why not devise a way of assigning the task of preparing programs and notes to students as a part of the course, and giving a grade so it is taken seriously? Have a student project coordinator responsible for assembling everything and making sure all the numbers are there and the spellings correct, and give a grade for that too. Rotate the tasks. Time is always at a premium, and this necessary chore is always left until the last minute. Why not turn it into an exercise with a pedagogical value from the outset of program planning so that such a shoddy product doesn't ever get handed out to the public again?