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Oh, what a thrill to witness budding young musicians with the promise of a career in performance or teaching or perhaps the lifelong avocation of playing in one's community. The enjoyment is a shared experience: for students, neighbors, parents, teachers, and by the conductor, all whom have watched them grow. On this occasion, two concerto competition winners took the stage with their colleagues in the James and Susan Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall, on the campus of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The Scholarship Benefit Concert took place under the baton of Tonu Kalam as the UNC Symphony Orchestra performed works by Debussy, Donizetti, Fauré, Mozart, and Vaughan Williams.
When Kalam made his way to the podium, he was greeted by the genuine enthusiasm of his students. Kalam, who has led the orchestra since 1988, is widely known for the disciplined and sensitive playing of his student musicians. He also serves as a pianist, guest conductor, summer festival conductor, chamber ensemble coach, and scholar. I am greatly impressed with his ability to assemble a challenging program that works for a variety of student abilities and reflects the joy of youth. The performance included an aria from an opera about young lovers, a piece for Paris Conservatoire student examination, the overture from Mozart's coming-of-age opera, and, according to the harp instructor, "... our kind of music!" This magical alchemy comes out of a deep reservoir of music swirling in the mind of Kalam.
Andrew Huang, a senior with a dual major (computer science and music), performed Claude Debussy's Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra. First scored as a piece for clarinet and piano, Debussy dedicated and subsequently orchestrated the composition (1911) for clarinet professor Prospère Mimart. The work has since become a staple of the clarinet repertoire, and it contains the fingerprints of Debussy. Performing with understanding of Debussy's style, Huang played exceedingly well, with flawless technique and a rich singing tone. Kalam responded, conducting a singular performance. I do hope that Huang performs this again as he matures and grows. We wish him well in his chosen profession in computer science as well.
La Fille du Regiment (1840), by Gaetano Donizetti, became a global success when it was performed in America (New Orleans in 1843 and subsequently in New York City) and when Jenny Lind sang the role of Marie for the queen in London (1847). Soprano Susannah Stewart sang "Par le rang..., Salut à la France" with clarity and grace, summoning the complicated emotions of the young Marie. Her stunning coloratura, coupled with an impressive curriculum vitae including many performances and awards, made her a standout. I'll be following this young star; she has a bright future.
The orchestra also played Overture to Idomeneo, K.366, by Mozart, the Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80, by Gabriel Fauré, and Ralph Vaughan Williams' 1939 orchestral arrangement of "Serenade to Music." Devin Cornacchio, principal cellist, and Katherine Gora Combs, principal flutist, played solo parts from Fauré's composition with great warmth and skill, and Emma Schubart, concertmaster, played the violin solo on the Vaughan Williams with near perfection. Overall, it was a splendid performance and wonderful concert. Congratulations and best wishes to the musicians and their teachers, Don Oehler and Jeanne Fischer, and bravo to Maestro Kalam for another successful concert.