Perhaps even more than in a community orchestra, where musicians play (mostly) for the sheer love of the art, the place to be for pure, unadulterated symphonic pleasure is a youth orchestra. (One reason for this is that second violinists, say, even in community groups, eventually discover that some of what they have to do in many ways resembles real work, while younger people, just starting out, tend to find pleasure in everything, including war-horse pieces of which their seniors have long since tired.)
In the Triangle region, there are, mercifully, many options for talented young people to hone their ensemble skills, but the largest conglomerate of youth orchestras – three of 'em, plus string and jazz groups, too – is operated by the soon-to-be-25-year-old Philharmonic Association, whose concerts ought to be on the must-hear lists of all area music lovers (and not just friends and families of the players).
The three PA orchestras – the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, conducted by Hugh Partridge; the Triangle Youth Symphony, conducted by C. McCrae Hardy; and the Triangle Youth Orchestra, conducted by Tim Kohring and Jacob Wenger – give two big sets of concerts every year, to show off pieces on which they've been working. I hated to miss the TYP's April 29 matinee concert, at which music by Glazunov and Elgar (a movement of the Cello Concerto, featuring Drake Driscoll), plus Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade were played, but the evening concert of the other two groups gave more than ample pleasure.
Wenger, a wonderful cellist who grew up in Raleigh, began the program of the 92-member TYO with a charming albeit substantially-inflated bit of Bach, done up by Merle Isaac, called "Brandenburg Sinfonia." It had everything to make one chuckle, including 10 or so times the number of players required by the original works; those players included a triangle virtuoso, which would have pleased someone like Thomas Beecham, for sure. The ensemble was secure, the sound, impressive in Meymandi Concert Hall. And as I have noted previously, the sight of that many musicians on that stage was reassuring on many levels, particularly insofar as the future of classical music here is concerned.
Tim Kohring conducted the rest of this short program, which included arrangements of the Largo from Dvořák's "New World" Symphony, the menuetto from Schubert's Symphony No. 5, and the Overture (or about half of it) to Wagner's potboiler of an opera, Rienzi. In all these pieces, the playing was secure, well-balanced, and satisfying – even to listeners with no kids in the band! – and the artists received warm applause for their efforts.
Before this part of the concert, 22 members were recognized for perfect attendance – amazing, if you think about how busy everyone is nowadays. That's nearly a quarter of the membership that didn't miss a single rehearsal or concert. Wow!
Part two of the program was presented by the TYS, whose conductor is well-known to admirers of musical theatre and orchestral concerts throughout the region. Maestro Hardy spoke of his intense pride in his musicians, and they absolutely underscored his confidence in strong, well-disciplined playing of the "Hungarian March" from Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, the first movement of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, Delius' exquisite (and rarely heard) "Summer Evening," and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Russian Easter Overture" (with a fine trombone solo filling in the hymn lines sometimes sung by a basso profundo). Now this material is mainline stuff - the march and the Delius sometimes turn up as encores, the overture, as a concert opener, and the symphony – with its second movement, of course – is given in programs by our best professional orchestras in which great solemnity is desired. The young artists of the TYS dug into these works, perhaps for the first times in their playing careers, with passion, alertness, and brio that often took this listener's breath away. I didn't hear the TYP, so I can't tell you the TYS was better, but let's put it this way: Hardy cut them no slack in terms of ensemble or tempi, and the players delivered.
Twenty-eight of these TYS people – the roster contains 102 names – had perfect attendance – more than 25%. Eight seniors were recognized – all are going on to bigger and better things. Whether they continue as instrumentalists or eventually become audience members and patrons of music, the future for the art of orchestral performance has been brightened by them – and by the work of the teachers, staff, and volunteers of the Philharmonic Association.
PS: The endowments of two more chairs (in the TYP) were announced by Executive Director Margaret Partridge: the principal trumpet and principal trombone will bear the names of her parents, who inspired and encouraged her life in music and music education. There are other opportunities for such beneficence (and at prices a good deal lower than you might think). Contact the PA for details.