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Orchestral Music Review Print

On Alan Neilson's Orchestras and More

February 10, 2002 - Durham, NC:

Five talented young women were featured during the Durham Symphony Orchestra's annual Young Artists Concert. For several reasons, these events are among the most important offerings of our various community and college/university-based ensembles. The experience can separate sheep from goats, in a manner of speaking, helping young musicians decide if a career in music is right for them. The public--and that term includes more than just family and friends--can through these sorts of concerts take the pulse of our local music education industry--of its teachers and school music programs. And the members of the orchestras that offer these concerts get the benefit of playing repertoire not routinely on their agendas.

On February 10, in the Carolina Theatre, both of the DSO's conductors - Music Director Alan Neilson and Assistant Conductor Vincent Simonetti - participated, providing proof positive of their personal commitment to the concert. Simonetti, best known as one of the world's master tuba vendors (whose Durham tuba emporium is worth a visit in person or online, at http://www.tubaexchange.com/ ), is the DSO's Founding Conductor and its incumbent Principal Tuba. These leaders share a common bond in that both were, years ago, principals of the NC Symphony.

On this occasion, Neilson began with the National Anthem, lustily sung by the assembled crowd (and applauded, too), after which five concerto movements were presented by the quintet of winners of the DSO's concerto competition, held in December. The young artists range from high school freshpersons to first year college students. All did commendably, and some gave truly amazing performances. Both Neilson and Simonetti elicited warm playing from the DSO, the membership of which, according to the roster, totals 67 (although not all of the listed players were present). The woodwinds and lower strings were particularly strong. Balance and blend were typically fine. The sound poured into the sometimes-quirky hall, thanks in large measure to Neilson's savvy positioning of the band as close to the lip of the stage as he could get it.

First up was flutist Uma Tadepalli, who studies with Duke's Rebecca Troxler and who worked, earlier, with the Mallarmé Chamber Players' Anna Ludwig Wilson. She is a junior at Charles E. Jordan High School, and readers of cvnc (or Mallarmé regulars) will recognize her, for she was the "young and petite dancer" in last September's joint performance by the ICMDS and MCP. She played a movement from Mozart's Flute Concerto No. 1 that flowed in all the right ways. It was beautifully shaped and phrased, and Simonetti and the slightly orchestra provided firm but restrained support.

Sara Peach, a freshman at UNC, studies clarinet with Donald L. Oehler and offered a movement of Weber's Second Clarinet Concerto. It was a marvelous choice because it consists of a slow, richly romantic introduction and a bravura finale. There was a great pause between the sections--so long that some in the hall looked around to see what was the problem--but the reading was polished and gave considerable satisfaction.

Neilson conducted the Weber and for violinist Analise Kukelhan, a student of the Ciompi Quartet's Eric Pritchard who is a freshman at Enloe High School. She's also the Concertmaster of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, whose ranks are filled with many young artists who are older than she is. She played a movement of Barber's Violin Concerto that was so good we lamented the fact that only one section of the music was given.

After intermission, Simonetti returned to lead the accompaniment for the first of two piano winners. A movement from Mendelssohn's First Concerto was Fallon Blaser's selection. Like Kukelhan, Blaser is a freshman at Enloe. She studies privately with Ruth Hafley and did a wonderful job with the score.

And for the grand finale, which was indeed quite grand, Meredith freshman Charity Duran, a student of Kent Lyman, delivered under Neilson's baton a movement from Gershwin's Concerto in F. This was all the more remarkable since her primary instrument was for many years the violin! We don't stumble across the Gershwin very often in concert, and here it struck this listener as quite episodic--a fact that Dorothy Kitchen noted in her outstanding program book commentary. Maybe it wasn't quite tense enough, but on the other hand it seemed plenty fast, and Duran gave a dazzling reading of the solo part.

The DSO did everything right on this occasion. Each player received a bunch of red roses--some were presented additional floral tributes by family and friends--and, when the concert was over, the President of the DSO gave each young artist a plaque commemorating the event. Whether they pursue professional careers or not, the experience will doubtless shape their lives. Congratulations and thanks to all five and to the DSO for featuring these fine young players in a mainline classical subscription concert. The cookies were ok, too.

But where were the guys? Here's a call to all brothers of all persuasions. We know you're out there, sweating away in your studios. Practice harder and try again next time there's an announcement of a concerto competition! For more information about the DSO, visit its website at http://www.durhamsymphony.org/ .

Last week we sang the praises of our college- and university-based orchestras. This week, we recognize our fine community orchestras, of which the DSO is but one. Neilson directs the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, too, and Donald L. Oehler leads a similar ensemble--the Village Orchestra--in Chapel Hill. These groups are part of the essential infrastructure of our musical community in that they provide performance opportunities for advanced students (graduates of our top youth orchestras, for example) and amateur and professionally-trained adults (some of whom have also worked in professional orchestras) who just happen to be pursing other careers at the moment. The orchestras they form cannot be compared with the Berlin Philharmonic or even the NC Symphony, for that matter, but they tend to offer satisfying concerts of sometimes-unusual repertoire and almost invariably their performances are played from the heart. This is because for the most part the musicians are in these groups for the sheer love of music, and this shines through in nearly everything they undertake. We suspect that the second violinists in these orchestras get just as sick of endlessly repeated patterns as their professional kinfolk do, but frowns are rare and smiles are plentiful. In addition, it won't break the bank to buy a ticket to a concert by a community orchestra, and ticket purchasers are likely to be thanked for coming--with or without BMWs or country club memberships! So there you are. Concerts by community orchestras are affordable, enjoyable, and tremendously important to the fabric of our musical lives. These groups give classical evenings, outdoor family concerts, concerts intended primarily for children and their parents, and programs offered in conjunction with other local groups (choirs and dance companies, for example). They often do educational programs in our local schools. They present chamber music from time to time. They perform classics and, occasionally, new works, too. They do everything the big boys and girls do, and they do it well and with far less money than you might imagine. Support your local groups--in this case, our community orchestras and the local artists who play in them. They'll be glad you did--and you will, too.

And there's an opportunity to support one of these groups-the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra--right away. On Valentine's Day, in Meymandi Concert Hall, the Butch Thompson Trio will present a non-orchestral concert benefiting the RSO, which (like all the others) needs all the help it can get. This orchestra has been especially hard-hit by various events and circumstances this year, in the wake of September 11. Its series opener with Marilyn Horne, planned for October 27, was postponed when ticket sales plummeted after the attacks. The public didn't flock to its family concerts in Meymandi, to which the orchestra shifted its base from Meredith's Jones Auditorium, and its costs escalated (as other groups have also discovered) in Raleigh's "Big MAC." Sales there have proven insufficient to cover the orchestra's current and previous obligations. The RSO has now downsized its office and staff--temporarily, we trust--and President (and flutist) Irene Burke and her colleagues are working together to help the orchestra weather the storm. The jazz concert can make a difference. We'll be there, and we'll be looking for YOU! For details, see our calendar.