For 30 years, Hugh Partridge, the man who has become our region's greatest and most diligently persistent music educator, has encouraged young people to take up instruments in the service of art music. With the indefatigable Margaret Partridge (whose bio is at the foot of the foregoing staff page) gradually becoming PA's administrative wizard, chief publicist, and executive director (since 2005), this great couple abetted the revolution in youth orchestras that had been launched elsewhere in the Triangle on much smaller scales somewhat earlier still. Today there are a dozen ensembles operating under the banner of the Philharmonic Association, surely one of the largest such organizations in the nation – this despite Suzuki, El Sistema, and a host of other outfits catering to young people.
Margaret officially retires on June 30 – but her respite will be short, as she then becomes director of community engagement for 2018-19. Hugh conducted his final formal concert with the Triangle Youth Philharmonic on the afternoon of April 22, in Meymandi Concert Hall, sharing the program with his associate conductor, Rashad Denzell Hayward (whose bio follows Hugh's at the aforementioned page). The conductor will stay on as artistic director of the organization for another year, while arrangements are made to replace first Margaret and then Hugh. This facilitates life for the board in several respects, not the least in sidestepping the need to find two Partridges at the same time to re-stock the proverbial pear tree.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, the saying goes. This farewell concert was indeed bittersweet, but overall, hope prevailed. The afternoon began as these spring events have long tended to do, with various significant and indeed essential bits of recognition: five awards for perfect attendance, certificates for 27 graduating seniors (all college bound, with many planning to retain music as an essential component of their lives), special salutes to three players who have participated since the fourth grade (the earliest entry point), and seven thank-yous to folks who have helped with setups in the rehearsal space at Athens Drive High School.
Ten members of the board then read an amazing "Whereas…" in tribute to Hugh Partridge, naming him conductor emeritus and citing the dozen performing groups he created during his amazing tenure, groups in which some 3,500 young musicians have played, over time. Yea, verily, the future of the art we seek to serve, collectively, is represented in the work of these young people! Bravo Hugh – and Margaret, too!
Did we say there was also a concert?
Partridge began with the world premiere of "Celebration Overture" by R. Michael Daugherty, longtime denizen of Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville. This festive work was created for this occasion, and given in the presence of the composer. Here the strings played from strength, but the woodwinds and brass were also heard to particularly fine advantage. The new piece served as an ideal summing up, as it were, of Partridge's and the TYP's work, embodied in a bold, positive new score that reflects the PA's long-term commitment to contemporary music.
Hayward led the second work on the program, the opening movement of Vieuxtemps' Violin Concerto No. 5, one of the great treasures of the literature that has largely disappeared from the standard concert repertoire. The soloist was Caroline Jesalva (pictured on the PA's website), a co-concertmaster of the TYP who earned this coveted slot in this year's concerto audition. She delivered a polished, often elegant reading of the substantial selection, a reading that was so good one wished the musicians had pressed on to play the rest of it. The conductor, ever watchful, elicited fine support from the soloist's colleagues. (The soloist also took top honors in the Chapel Hill Philharmonia's competition, with this same work, so readers will have a chance to revisit her performance on May 6; for details, see CVNC's calendar listing.)
The second half, led by Partridge, was devoted to Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D, known as the "Titan." There were over a hundred players on the stage for this, and the results were truly spectacular. Eight horns! (They stood up at the end of the piece, and we could count them.) Not really enough double basses, although the principal played his solo fabulously, and there were oodles of other low strings – nine violas, and 14 cellos – to bolster that deep, dark sonic floor for which Mahler is famous. This is a big score, and it is laden with solo opportunities throughout for every section. There were few missteps. Overall, the performance was stately, elegant, and totally in keeping with the requirements the composer-conductor laid out in 1887-88. At the end, Partridge recognized solo player by solo player, section by section, and there was protracted applause from the standing, cheering crowd. But no one present could have missed the fact that the ovation was mostly for Maestro Partridge and the many triumphs he has achieved with the PA over the past 30 years. Bravo.
The Philharmonic Association has three more events as the current season draws to a close: concerts by its jazz ensembles in Wendell on April 29, by the Triangle Youth Orchestra and the Triangle Youth Symphony in Meymandi Concert Hall on April 30, and a big al fresco party (also featuring the TYO and TYS) at Koka Booth in Cary on the afternoon of June 3. The members of these groups represent our artistic future so they're certainly worthy of your attention and support!
Change is good, I guess, but golly there are a lot of anniversaries and more than enough retirements this year, too! As the Mahler 1st ended in Meymandi, a performance of the Mahler 2nd was beginning in Duke Chapel, the choirs for which were led by Rodney Wynkoop, who therewith ended his 29-year tenure as Director of Duke Chapel Music. (A review of that concert is on CVNC.) These two overlapping events remind us once again how much this region has grown artistically, over the years: 30 or so years ago, no one could have imagined that we'd have overlapping performances of Mahler here in two different places on the very same day!