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Orchestral Music Review

NCS in Cary: Pros & Cons

May 21, 2002 - Cary, NC:

The pros - members of the NC Symphony and the group's Associate Conductor, William Henry Curry - were on hand at the appointed hour on May 21 in Cary's Regency Park, but it was chilly - the temperature barely touched 61 degrees F. that day - and there were pre-concert jokes about the winter pops, Santa sightings and such. Several members of the stalwart band were done up in civilian jackets that didn't meet regulation formal-wear specs. And there's apparently some kinda clause in the master contract that precludes our long-suffering instrumentalists from playing when it's too cold. So the "con" part of the title refers not to some sort of con job but to the fact that the program itself wasn't given exactly as advertised; 'twas shortened considerably, at the expense of the Preludes to Acts I and III of Wagner's Lohengrin (which, fortunately, we'd heard earlier in the season, indoors) and the "Dream Pantomime" from Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel . The losses of these works, which Curry leads and the NCS plays with exceptional finesse, got us to thinkin' about our state symphony's regular home, Meymandi Concert Hall, which, as we noted in connection with our recent review of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, tends to be an ice-box, most of the time; we wondered if there's ever been a time when the contract's temperature provisions have been invoked there.... Anyway, the show began with the Overture to Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla and then skipped promptly to Johann Strauss II's "Morning Papers" Waltzes. Curry & Co. did this charming set with astonishing skill, clearly reveling in the score's many felicitous delights. It's rare to hear one of Strauss' concert waltzes played so idiomatically as this one was-and the reading therefore augurs well for New Year's Eve, when at long last Curry will conduct the Symphony's big non-subscription gala.

This concert, postponed for obvious reasons from September 15, was intended primarily as the fifth annual "Play with the Pros," which is a Cary-based outreach program par excellence of the NCS and the Town's Department of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources. As it happens, the concert also highlighted the formal dedication of the new pavilion at Regency Park, which is a treat for the eyes and a huge improvement, for the ears, over the old tent shows of yore. Therefore there were backstage tours of the now-completed facility, the dedication of the "Overture" Gate at the main entrance (made possible by Cary Visual Art), and a ribbon cutting, presided over by Mayor Glen Lang. The Master of Ceremonies was Bill Leslie, and Kay Struffolino, former Symphony staffer and one of the mainstays of Summerfest and the P,R&CR Advisory Board, was responsible for introductions of many of the key movers and shakers. As noted, this is a handsome facility, so it is appropriate that representatives of the Boston architectural firm William Rawn & Associates were on hand, too, and made brief remarks. At the end of the evening, the Town put on one of its famous fireworks displays-we've felt for a long time that theirs are the best in the region, and this one, viewed from lakeside, was spectacular.

The second part of the program involved some 50 students and amateurs who were there to "Play With The Pros" and who did so, performing under Curry's leadership Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" March No. 4, the finale of Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony, Sibelius' "Finlandia" and (are you sitting down?) Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." With 50 augmentees plus the regulars arrayed on four-tier risers, the NCS looked like a real orchestra for a change, and after the first number, Curry turned to the audience and said, "They're all hired!" As a critic, it is my duty to report that it really wasn't bad-indeed, it really was pretty good. There were some minor lapses in ensemble here and there, and the triangle player got a bit carried away at one point, but the sound was terrific, the balance was good, and the overall results were impressive enough. The sound in the amphitheatre, in both halves, was so much better than it used to be in Cary, and so much better than it was during some of last summer's over-amplified concerts, that there was really no comparison-but, that said, this was still clearly an amplified concert, too, so some fine tuning might still be in order. There was also on this occasion some extraneous noise, clearly audible in quiet passages, from three (or more) propane space heaters that were intended to take the chill off the stage house. Talk about heating the whole outdoor!

The Symphony is into "outreach" in a big way, as well it should be, and in this regard the "Play With The Pros" program is one of its most inspired ventures. The players ranged from students to geezers, with some representation in between. (We trust the term "geezers" won't offend but if it does, let the record show that that category includes CVNCer Jeff Rossman, a cellist who took a night off from criticism to see what it's like on t'other side of the NCS fence.) It was gratifying to see some pepper in amongst the salt in the massed band and pleasing to see the NCS' principals step aside, briefly, in favor of the guest players, who included Cary resident Ashley Brink, acting as Concertmaster. It was fun, in the Sousa, when five flutists stood up, and still more fun when a dozen brass players did likewise, toward the end. Curry threw himself into the proceedings as only a passionately committed artist and educator can and does do. It was, as a result, quite an evening. It's too bad that an absent tuba player named Fishel, who dabbles in meteorology from time to time, couldn't have heated up the elements a bit more so we could have heard the Wagner and the Humperdinck, too.