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On the afternoon of January 20, the first in a series of three concerts hosted by the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel took place in the main gallery of Cary's historic Page-Walker Arts and History Center. The event sold out quickly and the main gallery was filled with people. The gallery of the Page-Walker is a small and personal setting. It is historic in its architecture, with crisp sunlight pouring through the large paneled windows and walls lined with elegant paintings of koi fish, the art exhibit set up at the time of the concert. The audience seemed quite comfortable, laughing and conversing with one another and with the performing artists in the minutes before the performance began. It was as if the audience was one large group of family and friends who had traversed back to a time in history when people would readily gather for an afternoon of music and refreshments in the living rooms of elaborate homes. This comfortable and nostalgic atmosphere, untouched by modern distractions, remained for the entirety of the concert.
An anticipatory hush fell over the audience as Erik Dyke, a bassist in the NC Symphony, stood to introduce himself and the concert program. In keeping with the casual feel of the room, he spoke in a familiar and humorous tone, invoking laughter and smiles from audience members. "I guarantee that we'll have fun," Dyke promised during his brief introduction. By the end of the two-hour, variety-packed program, his promise certainly had been fulfilled.
The first and second halves of the program were polar opposites of each other in terms of time period and musical style, but each was fun and engaged the audience in its own way. What added the primary uniqueness to the first half of the program was that it featured Dyke on double bass, an instrument most often assigned to play underpinning or background parts. This concert, however, opened with the bass front and center, with Dyke performing an arrangement of Handel's "Mediation," from Semele. Dyke's playing was full of emotion, his tone rich, and vibrato expressive. It was a rare treat to hear the stunningly powerful sound of a double bass accompanied only lightly by piano, which in this case was played by Brad Hunnicutt. A general look of amazement was on the faces of the audience members during this first piece and applause continued until Dyke interrupted to introduce the next.
Although Dyke was the instrumentalist primarily advertised on the program, the performance also featured the talented NC Symphony cellist David Meyer. He first performed the two boureés from J.S. Bach's solo Suite N. 4, pieces he said "demonstrate how much Bach can do with just a few notes." Indeed, although Bach used very few notes, the composition is complex; its many variations of the rhythmic and melodic motives make it interesting, and Meyer's performance was excellent. He captured the light and playful tone of the piece, the unique double-stop section was perfectly in tune, and the dexterity with which he played the frequently occurring fast runs was quite impressive. Most importantly, Meyer's posture and expression during the performance were evidence that he enjoyed playing the piece. As a result, the audience thoroughly enjoyed listening.
One of the highlights on the program was Dyke's own arrangement of Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos, which he had arranged for cello and double bass, keeping the standard piano accompaniment. The wider tonal area created by the replacement of one cello with a double bass literally filled the room with sound. The incredibly powerful and rich sound the two instruments created was stunning. This breathtaking sound was a result not only of the unique instrument pairing, but also of two musicians perfectly aligned with one another in terms of intonation, bow stroke, dynamics, and breath. The audience clapped enthusiastically at the end, fully aware that they had just experienced an extremely special performance.
Additional variety was added to the program with a solo performance by Hunnicutt of Rachmaninoff's beautiful Prelude in G Sharp Minor, mezzo-soprano Carol Ingbretsen performing Brahms' "Sapphische Ode" and Torelli's "Tu lo Sai," and thirteen-year-old violinist Emily Schmidt's prodigious performance of a lively and challenging mazurka by Wieniawski.
In addition, Dyke performed two other solo works for bass – Prokofiev's "Romanze" (from Lieutenant Kijé) and the lovely folk song "La pedlar." In both, he had the audience leaning forward with interest, and during the ilting folk song, people even began to bob their heads. During the applause, one or two audience members shouted their approval.
In the midst of all the Classical and Baroque compositions, Meyer played "Après un rêve," by the far more modern sounding Gabriel Fauré. Meyer's performance of the sweeping melody was gorgeous, and even the highest notes were played with a crystal-clear tone and passionate vibrato. The first half of the program lasted an hour, but almost all of the pieces were under ten minutes long, ensuring that no one became bored.
After a brief intermission, during which everyone had a chance to speak to speak with the performers if they so desired, the second half was fun in a completely different way than the first half had been. Singer Ingbretsen started with a number of jazzy pieces from the Great American Songbook with accompaniment by pianist Billy Liles and Dyke playing double bass. By this time, the sky outside the large windows of the room had turned from a clear blue into a dark purple decorated with pink clouds, creating the perfect backdrop for the reminiscent and romantic pieces. Ingbretsen's selections included Rose/Hirsch's "'Deed I Do," Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You" from Anything Goes and his "I've Got You Under My Skin," Nat King Cole's "L-O-V-E," and Gray/Ross' "Twisted." The witty lyrics of these songs, along with Ingbretsen's in-character singing and pleasantly rich voice, brought smiles to many faces.
This unpredictable concert program ended with a performance by the Fabulous Ukulele Band and Chorus, a group of four or five beginner ukulele players led by Dyke, with Meyer and Dyke taking turns playing electric bass. Dyke, in his humorous style, introduced the group. He then brought out the first record he had ever known, a Beatles album, taking the audience, which consisted almost entirely of individuals over the age of sixty, down memory lane. The sentimental journey continued as the ukulele band performed five songs by the Beatles and concluded with Mary Hopkin's "Those Were the Days." It is a rare and special thing for an audience to participate as wholeheartedly as this one did; the room was filled with singing and clapping. Although the program lasted the significant length of two hours, energy never dwindled. The event ended with wild applause and a standing ovation, confirmation that Dyke's promise of a fun performance was fulfilled.
The concert will certainly be remembered fondly by all who attended, and those who did not should clear their calendars without a second thought for the two other concerts in the Friends of the Page-Walker Winter Concert Series: NC Symphony concertmaster Brian Reagin on February 17 and a St. Patrick’s Day Celtic music celebration with former WRAL anchor Bill Leslie on March 17. For details of these, see our calendar.
And note that Dyke will play a different program at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh on Feb. 17 at 2 p.m.