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A special performance took place in Meymandi Hall on April 28 to celebrate the role the late David S. Brown, Sr. played in the fulfillment of his widow Marilyn's dream of establishing a conservatory of music in Raleigh. The dream stretches back nearly 40 years to when she opened her first piano studio in their home in 1963. The proceeds of the concert will be used to establish the "Performing Artists Scholarship" in Brown's honor to endow recitals on their home turf by graduates of the Conservatory who have gone on to successful careers in music.
The performers were all alumni of the Conservatory. Lisa Bamford, Miss North Carolina 1995, and graduate of Meredith in piano served as an emcee of sorts. She performed the introductory and closing numbers, as well as those surrounding the intermission and another interlude between two other musicians. She gave commentary and related anecdotes before and after her various numbers, which she sang self-accompanied. Bamford opened most appropriately with Irving Berlin's "I Love a Piano," unannounced in the program, and followed immediately with Larry Henley and Jeff Filbar's scheduled "Wind Beneath My Wings," commenting that David had worked hard in the background in order to "allow Marilyn to spread her wings."
Next up was a set that was a true family affair by alum Kerry Johnson, his wife Mary, their son Wesley and their daughter Martha. Kerry and violinist Mary opened the group with the "Meditation" from Massenet's Thaïs . Kerry followed this with a piano solo of his own composition, "Alan's Song," written in memory of his younger brother who haddied suddenly a few years ago: Mary returned to the stage with Wesley on the tam-tam to join Kerry in a work she wrote,"Eclipse." The set concluded with the entire family playing the Scottish Folk Tune "Sweet Molly and the Wise Maid" as Martha performed her own choreographed dance.
Tom McGinnis took over the stage to play three movements (Chaconne, Sarabande, and Gigue) from Bach's French Suite No. 5 in G, the Allegro assai movement from Mozart's Sonata K. 332, and the Presto con fuoco movement from Beethoven's Sonata Op. 31, No. 3. He was followed in turn by Marie Cho Jo who played Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. Post., the Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, and Rachmaninoff's transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee."
Bamford closed the first half with her arrangement of Keith Green's setting of Psalm 23 and opened the second half with "A Lisa Original," an inspirational song accompanied by Mary Johnson, violin and Wesley, tam-tam. This was followed by the youngest of the alums, Jonathan Levin, who will be entering the Manhattan School of Music in the fall. He played the second and third movements (Andante con moto and Allegro ma non troppo) of Beethoven's Sonata Op. 57 "Appassionata," Rachmaninoff's Etude-tableau Op. 39, No. 5, and the fourth movement "Alborado del Gracioso" from Ravel's Miroirs .
Lisa Bamford sang Cindy Morgan's "How Could I Ask For More" between Levin and his current mentor, Craig Ketter, who was up next to play Chopin's Nocturne in f-sharp major, Op. 15, No. 2, and his Scherzo No 2 in b-flat minor, Op.31. He concluded with Scriabin's Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp major, Op. 30.
Bamford and Dana Mallory brought the afternoon to a close with Victor Borge's arrangement of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No 2, thus ending on a note of levity. Bamford, dressed as a housekeeping person, entered prematurely pushing a dust mop and the pair played the piece on the opposite end of the keyboard from where they were seated-arms over and under each other's, and place changing without missing a beat or a note.
Throughout, the performance was excellent, with some moments especially noteworthy. McGinnis's Mozart bubbled; Jo's Chopin was exquisite; Levin's Ravel seemed to suit him particularly well; Ketter's Scriabin dazzled. The Johnson family's contributions seemed so very a propos for a family whose parish, Trinity Presbyterian Church, used to call them the "von Browns." Bamford was wonderfully poised and judicious in her selections and performance.
While the Johnsons live here, giving of their talents at the Kings Park International Church, as do McGinnis, who is Director of Worship and Music at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Mallory who teaches privately in Cary, and Levin who is still with his parents, others traveled long distances to make their fine contributions. Bamford pursues her musical career in Nashville, TN; Jo lives with her husband Paul, a urologist, in Ocala, FL, where she is active in organizing classical music events. Ketter lives with his wife, Canadian soprano Valerie Gonzalez, and their son in NYC where he is active in the music world, although he also does some traveling nationally and internationally.
The program was a most fitting and lovely tribute to David, and the launch of the final stage of his dream, the memorial fund. The printed program was nicely done, as well, with artist bios, inspirational quotes from literature and poetry, reflections by friends, and a list of donors to the Scholarship. Readers who were unable to attend the performance and wish to make a contribution to the Scholarship may do so by sending their gift to Raleigh conservatory of Music, 3636 Capital Boulevard, Raleigh, NC 27604. A video, a 2-CD recording, and cassettes will be available in about a month. Call 919-790-1533 for further information.