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Centenary Church was almost-SRO, filled with parents, spouses, and grandparents (and a fretful baby) when the New Bern Civic Strings filed in, the visual show stolen by a young cellist with a bright red fascinator the size and shape of a cabbage. Centenary Music Director Paul Saik explained how thankful and appreciative we should be for the great generosity of him and Centenary Church for allowing the use of their church. Then concert mistress Rachel Harmatuk Pino (one of the Civic Strings founders along with Becky Ackiss and Bryna Coonin) gave out the pitch and the concert, conducted by Finley Woolston, was off and running with the first movement of K.239, Mozart's Serenata Notturna, composed when Mozart was about 20 years old. The ripieno was strong, no shyness at all, and filled the hall with rich string sound; there was, surprisingly, a little raggedness in the concertino.
Rachmaninoff wrote his Vocalise, Op. 34, frequently heard on the theremin, originally for voice and piano; he also arranged it for orchestra. This is a song without words, offering the performer the option of using whatever vowel sound the performer chooses. In this performance, the vocal line was taken by some of the strings. It is very demanding in its need for precise intonation.
Gustav Holst's three-movement Brook Green Suite was written for young string students just like many of these performers. The Prelude began with a crisp start; it features a prominent bass line. The Air began very slowly and legato, with a later tempo increase handled very smartly by the orchestra. The jig-like Dance, in compound meter, was greatly appreciated by the audience. The players managed the somewhat complex rhythmic patterns very nicely.
As an interlude, some charming younger students joined the orchestra for Pachelbel's Canon in D and the Suzuki standby "Twinkle-Twinkle." How great it is that they have this chance to make music with “the big children.”
From Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice we heard the Lento and the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits," the most charming music of the evening. The magic chords at the beginning of the Lento got everyone's close attention. The Dance featured guest flutists Anne Searl and Ann Courtney. The tempo was pleasingly modern. It was a real disappointment when this lovely piece ended.
J. S. Bach's Concerto in D-minor for two violins, viola, and continuo, S.1043, had its viola and continuo parts expanded to make work for the whole orchestra. They played the first half, the Vivace and Largo. Pino and the orchestra were joined by Elizabeth Ivy, violin, and Cheryl Kite, piano. In this secular piece, the piano provided the “bite” so typical of worship music in eastern North Carolina. Pino and Ivy are really brilliant musicians, and it is very fortunate that we have such talent available in New Bern; and how fine it is that our community supports this orchestra and allows all these talented people, not just the soloists, a chance to make live music together.
"One Hand, One Heart," from Bernstein's West Side Story, was somewhat ambitious for this group. The doleful music gave a foreboding of the tragic ending of the Romeo-Juliet story.
Tom Wolf, the Washington harpsichord builder, also played in waltz bands for elegant soirées in the nation's capital. He ruefully observed that in that genre there was never any rest for the bassists. Such is the case in Johann Strauss junior's Emperor Waltz, given on this occasion; the pervasive bass line soon had the audience swaying in their seats.
The New Bern Civic Strings was founded by Rachel Harmatuk Pino to create an opportunity for local string players of all ages to make music together. She deserves the thanks of the community for the success of the program.