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Orchestral Music Review

The Eveready Bunny of NC Orchestras Plays and Plays - Everywhere!

May 31, 2003 - Cary, NC:

Summer is acumin' in - on June 21 - and Summerfest is here again, at last! Ponder its manifold delights, provided by the Town of Cary at the start of this, its third season in its "new" digs! Tolerably-close-in parking (with commendable access for persons with disabilities, although the paved entrance paths are a bit long and involve some slight inclines...). A lovely venue. Decent enough sound - usually tended by an off-duty stick-waver. Members of the NC Symphony. Music that won't offend anyone. Guest artists. Good leadership. Picnics. Wine. A lake. Ducks. What could be finer, than to be in Carolina on a lovely late spring or early summer evening?

Well, one thing that would help would be better drainage at Regency Park, or more firm control of the elements by that Fishel guy (you know him - he plays the tuba, when he's not serving as WRAL-TV's weather-guesser). On the evening of May 31, less than an hour before Summerfest 2003 was scheduled to begin, adverse weather (in the form, locally, of a severe thunderstorm, but far more troubling to the west of Cary) set in, drenching lawn patrons and their picnics and bringing to mind that bag of potato chips that fell overboard at Oriental, NC, back in the late '60s.... The skies were cloudy all afternoon, and attendance was down, and as we were going in, many wet souls were coming out.... But after a brief delay - you gotta mop up that stage and dry off those chairs - the WCPE announcer make his opening remarks and the concert began. The program was an all-baroque affair, which means that the works given aren't part of the NCS' regular repertoire. The members of the small orchestra - 25 strings plus winds and brass and percussion and a synthesizer (serving, more or less, as a harpsichord) - looked vaguely but not completely familiar. As we noted in our review of the recent Sunday Serenade Concert, there were some bright-eyed newcomers - students, in some cases, we're almost certain.... William Henry Curry, the Music Director of Summerfest, conducted, and in the sound booth was the NCS' fine Assistant Conductor, Jeffrey Pollock, who will lead the band in some of the other concerts.

Things got underway with a thing called "Trumpet Voluntary" by a person listed as Henry Purcell, arranged by [Henry] Wood (a.k.a. "Old Timber"). It was lovely and bright and saucy and it helped clear memories of the downpour - although the ground remained a soggy mess. But since WWII - at least - it has been known that the piece played is by Jeremiah Clarke, and that its real title is "The Prince of Denmark's March." (Wood did arrange it, however; see http://www.artsworld.com/music-dance/works/s-u/trumpet-voluntary-jeremiah-clarke.html [inactive 3/04].) We mention this for several reasons, not least of which is that the program was poorly documented. Of course, we don't expect scrupulous attention to details in al fresco concerts (if we did, we'd insist on their being given indoors!), but surely someone associated with the NCS, for which education is a primary mission, knew the facts.

While people wondered if the storm had ended, five excerpts from Handel's Water Music flowed admirably from the musicians into the hearts and minds of the audience. It would have been nice to have heard more. Instead, after a short introduction presided over by Curry (who did not read the introductory sonnet), Concertmaster Brian Reagan soloed in "Spring," from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons . His playing was somewhat aggressive, and the accompanying strings likewise projected their mastery of modern performance practice in this music: the reading was crisp, incisive, atmospheric, and often quite dramatic. Donna Jolly was the "harpsichordist." Since the program title began " Four Seasons...," it would have been nice to have heard the other three concerti in the set.

After intermission, the orchestra turned to Bach's First Orchestral Suite, S.1066, playing four sections of what the composer called an " Ouvertüre" - instead of the previously-announced Third Brandenburg Concerto. Despite a brief passage where the woodwinds seriously overpowered the strings (Pollock jumped to the rescue!), this was a welcome substitution, in part because the Suites are not as overplayed as the Brandenburgs. Pachelbel's Canon turned out to be the evening's Achilles' heel - there weren't enough strings, or strong enough strings, to pull off the divisi. But things came back together again in the grand finale, selections from Handel's Royal Fireworks Music, and in Old Timber's arrangement (which we'd never heard, and hope never to hear again) of the "Hallelujah Chorus," from Messiah, which served as the encore.

For the most part, Curry pulled the baroque rabbits out of the proverbial hat, leading the orchestra with enthusiasm and eliciting some very attractive playing from the ensemble, which on this occasion included several but not nearly all of the orchestra's principal players. Summerfest continues this coming Saturday (June 8) with vocalist Dianne Reeves in a tribute to Sarah Vaughan. See our calendar for program details for the rest of the series. We have a call in to Greg Fishel about arranging for perfect weather for all of the remaining concerts.

Will the real NC Symphony please stand up?

At Summerfest on May 31, and at the Sunday Serenade concert on May 18, and at other times and in other places this season, "the NC Symphony" may or may not have been The NC Symphony. We mention this because on the afternoon of May 31, as we were preparing our foul-weather gear for the trek to Cary, we heard WCPE announcing the last of the Carolina Ballet's performances of the season, which - we were told - were to be accompanied by... the NC Symphony. Those performances were at 8 :00 p.m. May 31 and on the afternoon of June 1. Now as our regular readers know, the NC Symphony at full cry is a medium-sized orchestra of 65 players, so it is hard for it to be in two places at once. We had a critic at the Carolina Ballet's May 31 performance (the review is pending), but I was curious about the NC Symphony playing for them and for Summerfest, too, so on the afternoon of June 1, I went down to the Big MAC* and picked up a program for the ballet, which says, plainly, "featuring members of the North Carolina Symphony." This is perfectly true - but it is a distinction that was lost on our friend at WCPE, and it is potentially misleading to NCS patrons who - having anted up the scratch for tickets - surely expect to hear The NC Symphony - or at any rate to hear fully professional musicians - instead of a pickup orchestra involving some NCS people.... It's a truth in advertising thing, in my view, and I make a point of it here in the hope that the marketing departments of our various performing arts groups - and our classical station, too - will take greater care with their announcements, so the public is not misled.

* = Memorial Auditorium Complex.