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"Raleigh Symphony is on the road doing what we do best! Spreading the gift of music to young musicians in our area!" This is the claim made on the orchestra's website announcing "Our Christmas Gift," a program wherein these veteran players were joined by the Leesville Road Middle and High School orchestras for a set of festive numbers. To judge by the enthusiastic reaction of the audience in the auditorium of Leesville Road High School, the players made good on that claim.
For approximately the first half of the evening, Music Director and Conductor Jim Waddelow led the "pros," starting away up north with the Norwegian composer Grieg and his Zwei Melodien (Two Melodies), Op.53. Here the characteristic dark and brooding strains came through with all the requisite profuse orchestration.
The main work of the evening, Haydn's Symphony No. 44, showed Waddelow in one of his specialties. This symphony in four movements fared well under these relatively huge forces, taking on a somewhat "Beethovenian" character. The plaintive Adagio movement explained the alternative title, "Trauer" (Mourning). The players were at their finest in expressing these measures, at once doleful and incredibly appealing.
It was back up north again for the super-familiar "Finlandia" of Sibelius. The ample orchestral forces were supplemented by more winds and percussion for this lush work. Any audience member could have been forgiven for intoning "Be Still My Soul" throughout those familiar strains.
The "formalities" out of the way, it was time for the Leesville Road Middle School Orchestra with a scattering of RSO players marbled throughout. Waddelow led these forces in "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "The Holly and the Ivy." Leading these players in "Frosty the Snowman" was Mark Stiles, strings teacher at Leesville Road Schools, RSO cellist, and freelance cellist/bass player.
Stiles was on the podium for most of the remainder of the program. He led the Seventh Grade Orchestra as they gamely negotiated Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and the Eighth Graders in a confident rendition of Bach's "Sleepers Awake." His Leesville Road High School Orchestra was in fine form on "Ellis Island," a lively number reminiscent of English folksong arrangements, and composed by Alan Lee Silva. This same composer was featured in the following "America's Cup," a jolly and tuneful piece skillfully realized by the Chamber Orchestra. Stiles combined these two ensembles with a scattering of RSO players for the appealing "Christmas Waltz" and "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Waddelow then utilized all forces in a rousing "Winter Wonderland."
The next time you see Jim Waddelow or any Raleigh Symphony player, you might consider offering a word of thanks for their role in promoting a good future for good music.