After a winter hiatus from full orchestral concerts, the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra returned to Jones Auditorium at Meredith College for their latest symphonic offering, Dear Friends, featuring pieces by Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and premiering a violin concerto from local composer Bill Robinson. Dear Friends came aptly titled and timed with invigorating works welcoming the early spring and celebrating friendships between composers and performers alike. The program opened and closed with works from long-time friends Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, beginning with Copland’s “John Henry” and ending with “Three Dance Episodes” from Bernstein’s On the Town.

Artistic director and conductor Dr. Jim Waddelow rounded out the evening’s programming with additional appearances from friends of the RSO; vocalist Rachel Stenbuck, violinist Eric Pritchard, and most notably, local composer Robinson. Stenbuck followed the opening number with a mournful and robust “Che faro senza mi Euridice” from Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. The melancholy aria played well with Aaron Copland’s reflective composition “Quiet City” as the two numbers book-ended the featured composition of the evening, Robinson’s Violin Concerto No. 2.

Robinson’s invigorating and urgent four-movement work highlighted yet another friendship of that between Robinson and the solo violinist for whom the concerto was composed: Pritchard of the Ciompi Quartet at Duke University. Pritchard led the orchestra through Robinson’s musical storytelling, beginning with fast and loose tempos of “Country Fiddling,” supporting the full voice of the orchestra with “Between Earth and Space,” holding a lively call and response with the symphony in the third movement, “Scherzo,” and culminating with a strong and balanced “Sufinale.”

That balance was mirrored and amplified in the complete programming for Raleigh Symphony Orchestra’s Dear Friends. The lively opening with Copland’s “John Henry” (complete with an orchestrated tire iron) captured the audience’s engagement before the RSO delivered the vocal talent of Stenbuck’s equally engaging “Che faro senza mi Euridice.” Robinson’s intense concerto felt balanced by the reflective and melancholy numbers from Copland and von Gluck. The final rendition of Bernstein’s “Three Dance Episodes” from On the Town provided a solid anchor to the well-rounded evening, showcasing each orchestral section’s talents under Waddelow’s focused direction.

Supporters of the Raleigh Symphony who missed Dear Friends need not despair. RSO is set to return in early May with a double-header of orchestral concerts featuring student conductors, musicians, and vocalists as selected from Meredith College’s Concerto Aria competition and Raleigh Symphony Orchestra’s Rising Stars competition. The weekend is also set to include an original composition by the 2020 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award recipient, Athena Zhang. The Concerto Aria/Rising Stars performance will conclude the 2022-2023 main stage season for the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, surely with a weekend of the most up and coming artists that Raleigh classical music lovers won’t want to miss.