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In a double-header performance, the Triangle Youth Orchestra and Triangle Youth Symphony presented their spring performances, showcasing 84 and 95 students, respectively in these local auditioned youth orchestras that have already attained a very high level of musical caliber. The three orchestral ensembles in the Philharmonic Association's Triangle Youth Music program include the Triangle Youth Orchestra, Symphony, and Philharmonic, increasing in advanced level, respectively, and conducted by dedicated educators and directors who have proven themselves strong proponents of NC arts programs in varied respects. The Philharmonic presented its own, full-length concert on Sunday, but the two slightly less advanced orchestras took to the stage in joint recital to offer up their talents.
The Triangle Youth Orchestra, after a somewhat tentative tuning note and some last-second scrambling in the percussion section, was first led by their assistant conductor Jacob Wenger*, who managed to coax them into a balanced, full sound in Handel's Overture to the Royal Fireworks Music in an arrangement by Richard Meyer. This ensemble had a very nice balance, with only a few rhythmic inconsistencies, presenting a full and well-rounded program to showcase their talents.* After settling in, director Tim Kohring* led another Meyer arrangement, of Smetana's The Moldau. While the arrangement only contained the triumphant end melody and the folk-dance interlude, the technique and overall sound was mature and full. Kudos to the percussion especially for its precision and balance throughout the complex transition sections.
The third work by the TYO was Pietro Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, arranged by Jack Bullock. These arranged, condensed versions of works were definitely preferable in this setting; parents may not all recognize the full orchestral contexts, but it provided short, accessible settings of important works with which the students can begin to familiarize themselves. The Intermezzo was a great attempt, though the soft, densely harmonic opening exposed some intonation issues – understandable with the sheer amount of string players on stage, and something that they will only polish with experience. In a complete shift, after alternating conductors again, and bringing Kohring to the stage through the rest of the ensemble's set, came Larry Clark's much more contemporary "Engines of Resistance." This piece's energetic, driving rhythms on low winds and brass, underpinned by an energetic brake drum, gave a grateful nod to the wind ensemble background of many of the younger wind players in the area. The winds and brasses seemed equally appreciative of this return to their roots, as the ensemble explored a fuller, louder sound throughout a cinematic and engaging performance.
Rounding out the TYO portion of the program was Dvořák's Slavonic Dance No. 8, arranged by Merle Isaac, which is always – even in reduced form – such an exciting piece, full of contrasts. The timing throughout was a bit jerky, especially at the first ritardando into the recap, but the second time tightened up, and all the moving parts came together into a satisfying finale.
The woodwinds and brass were again treated to a couple of showcase moments at which they excelled, which was not only a tribute to their talents and hard work but to good program choice by the directors, who at this point know their students very well.
After a brief statement of fundraising and then recognizing about half of both ensembles' members' commitment to perfect attendance at rehearsals, the stage was reset for the Triangle Youth Symphony. Manned by an equal if slightly larger personnel, the TYS is the middle of the three orchestral ensembles, directed by C. McCrae Hardy**. Hardy began by recognizing two graduating students as well as one leaving the area to study in the UNC School of the Arts high school program. He also thanked Kohring, the TYS strings coach Gina Ali*, and a "ringer" from the TYO, who all volunteered to aid the TYS in filling out the percussion section.
The TYS' program began with a little of a lurch, with Rimsky-Korsakoff's "Procession of the Nobles," arranged by Merle Isaac. The trumpet section tightened up after its first couple of shaky entrances, difficult passages with which to begin a program, but rose to the challenge. The ensemble, made up of strong, cohesive string units, rich brass sections, and an exquisite woodwind ensemble, filled the hall with a lush sound. The two harpists, always an exciting treat to hear, had a very nice moment here as well. Next up was a suite from Bizet's Carmen, giving everyone many nice moments. Moving from "Les Toreadors" and the "Prélude and Aragonaise," the "Intermezzo and Danse Bohéme" were arguably the most powerful sections, both of which featured sumptuous woodwind family features. Brennan Robbins, principal flute, in particular, delivered one of the most famous orchestral excerpts in the "Intermezzo" solo melody, with clean, rich projection.
The final TYS work was the Finale movement from Dvořák's Symphony No. 8, after a much-needed re-tuning that allowed the orchestra to address several minor, yet persistent, pitch issues. The cellos and violas handled their opening melodies with lovely sonority, followed by a seamless transition into the first fast section. The balance remained delightfully even across the ensemble, but notes began to come a little sloppier – again, understandable due to the difficulty of the piece and its unfortunate place at the end of a long program. The energy and momentum continued building, and Robbins again presented a notoriously fiendish flute solo, which he very nearly had perfected. The movement's unusual bucolic, pastoral interlude towards the end was flowing and beautiful, and it was satisfying to hear the loud, clean ending that was exciting without being bombastic.
The most exciting part of the evening may have been just the feeling of excitement in the students and their families, filling up Meymandi Concert Hall's impressive aura with bubbling enthusiasm. To see how the students not only met the challenges of these historical works with their strong efforts, but also seemed to delight in them, was truly inspiring. It makes the future of classical music appear to be in good hands for sure!
*In the TYO,11% are in elementary school and 59% are in middle (a third of the middle schoolers are 6th graders). TYS is middle (37%) and high school (62%).
**Bios of these fine folks can be read here.
Edited/updated & amended 5/10/19.