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The first two of three concerts in two days for the Philharmonic Association were presented on May Day in Meymandi Concert Hall as the Triangle Youth Orchestra and the Triangle Youth Symphony offered brief programs demonstrating their remarkable proficiency. The third concert, featuring the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, will be presented in the same venue on Tuesday, May 2, at 7:00 p.m.
These ensembles represent the future, and it's always worthwhile checking out that future now.
Tim Kohring got things underway on Monday evening, leading the Triangle Youth Orchestra in the "Phoenix" Overture by James Curnow, a bandmaster with strong ties to the Salvation Army's music enterprises. This piece is altogether admirable tone painting that depicts the mythical bird as it crashes, burns, and rises again. The orchestra – nominally the junior ensemble of the Philharmonic Association – played with enthusiasm and close attention to its conductor while Kohring, in turn, provided energetic leadership. This ensemble of nearly 80 young musicians looked great on the stage of our best local concert hall and sounded terrific in this music.
Assistant conductor Jacob Wenger (himself an admirable cellist) took the stage for a movement from Handel's Royal Fireworks Music and an abbreviated version of Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture. The former came across especially well as the string sections had considerable opportunity to shine. The Beethoven wasn't complete but the essential optimism of the score shone through. Like Kohring, Wenger is well-suited to this work, and he elicited fine playing from the ensemble.
Kohring returned to the stage for the finale, the "March to the Scaffold" from Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. (If the program spoke somewhat of death and dismemberment, that was intentional!) This, too, was heard in a somewhat simplified version but the music was wildly effective and quite warmly received.
Before the performances, there'd been presentations of perfect attendance awards and recognition of seniors. Not all these folks will grow up to be professional musicians but these youth orchestra experiences will stay with them for their entire lifetimes. Well done!
The second concert of the evening was presented by the Triangle Youth Symphony, whose conductor is the distinguished musical theatre leader C. McCrae Hardy, whose bio is among members of The Lost Colony staff published here.
Under his leadership, these musicians – over 90 names are in the program booklet! – played at very high levels, technically and artistically. The selections began with a bracing rendition of the March from Wagner's Die Meistersinger, cleverly introduced. This is wonderful music, say what you will about its composer, and the orchestra sounded quite wonderful playing it. Hardy cut the orchestra no slack, taking this (and the other works) fully up to tempo. We'll hear the "senior" orchestra on Tuesday but were there a contest it's hard to imagine the TYS would not be very much in the running.
An attractive piece by Robert Washburn was next, perhaps heard for the first time here, since Hardy explained he'd come across it in the library, still in its original wrappers. "New England Holiday" is an attractive medley of several older tunes, skillfully assembled, that was realized with spirit and sensitivity by the orchestra.
The grand finale was the opening movement of Dvořák's famous "New World" Symphony, admirably – nay, glowingly – played after a brief pause to allow for some additional tuning. Again, Hardy kept the musicians on task as he propelled this great music to its conclusion, succeeding so well one wished they'd kept going.
Perfect attenders and graduating seniors were also recognized. Let us not forget the significant role parents play in these orchestral undertakings. Soccer moms (and dads) and Philharmonic Association parents have much in common! Again, well done.
This Philharmonic Association mini-marathon of concerts continued on May 2 in the same venue with a more substantial program played by the Triangle Youth Philharmonic under the leadership of two fine conductors.
Rashad Denzell Hayward directed the first two works, Shostakovich's ebullient "Festive" Overture (for sure, a piece that lives up to its title) and the finale of Lalo's Symphonie espagnol. The former was handsomely played by the large (105 members, with some brass augmentees) ensemble, a group that filled the stage in ways not often seen when the hall's regular denizens are performing – because there are basically as many string players alone in the TYP as there are total members of the NC Symphony! Hayward, a southpaw (fairly unusual in the conducting business), elicited some really magnificent ensemble work, orchestral sound, and finely shaded dynamics, the likes of which in Rossini we call "terraced." There were no concessions to the youth of the players because none were needed. Aside from the fact that the faces were fresh and most of the bodies were skinny, one would be hard-pressed to tell this was a youth ensemble as opposed to a seasoned and fully-professional symphony orchestra.
There was more of the same in the Lalo, in which the violin soloist was Caroline Jesalva, the TYP's co-concertmaster, a home-schooled 16-year-old who studies with the Ciompi Quartet's Eric Pritchard. Her performance of the Rondo from this famous virtuoso extravaganza was magnificently realized and, thanks to Hayward, beautifully meshed with the accompanying forces, too. It's a score too rarely heard in concert, so its presence was an added bonus, and this rendition was so good it made us long to hear the rest of it in concert sometime, and with these artists, too.
For part two of the program, PA artistic director Hugh Partridge (bio at the foot of this page) chose Glazunov's The Seasons, nominally a four-part ballet first performed in 1900 with choreography by Mauris Petipa, the "father" of Russian ballet, remembered for Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, and another 50 or so classical full-evening dance extravaganzas. The score is a sequence of individual numbers, strung together; it might have been helpful had these been called out in the program, for as the performance unfolded, one suspects many in attendance were not certain where we were in the music at all times. (Readers may see a synopsis and the list of dances here.)*
All that said, the performance was something else, a piece that glowed from within and impressed consistently throughout, thanks to the precise and energetic playing, the rich sound of the full string sections, the high quality of the winds, brass, and percussion, the great work of harpist Matthew Gillespie, and Partridge's expert and always-attentive leadership. The score may be little known, but it fits solidly in the mainstream of the great Russian ballets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a tradition some would argue died out with Prokofiev. The reading was something to write home about, so of course it merited the big ovation it and these artists received at its conclusion.
We should perhaps have mentioned that the three ensembles discussed here are but a third of the groups fielded by the PA. The others are the Triangle Youth String Sinfonia, the Triangle Youth String Orchestra, the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble, the Triangle Youth Jazz Orchestra(s) (with detachments in Raleigh and Cary), the Triangle Youth Jazz Band, and the Triangle Youth Jazz Lab – plus various ad hoc chamber ensembles. In Wake County, as the saying goes, this is where it's at for performing ensembles for young people!
Going forward, it might be helpful to have students contribute program notes. And short biographical sketches of soloists would be good, too.
It was a shame that these concerts are not attended by more of the general public; most of the audiences were the musicians’ families. Such high quality playing and relatively brief concerts would be ideal for young families to introduce children to classical music.
PS In the TYP, 14 players had perfect attendance. Twenty seniors were recognized, opening up many slots for next year!
*This may be important for folks planning to attend the PA's last concert of the season, which centers on a performance of the ballet itself, being offered in company with Raleigh Dance Theatre at Meredith College on May 21. For details of that, click here.