The sound of a glockenspiel rose above the cacophony inside the “gymnatorium” in the Emily K Center. Children dressed in their concert clothes lined the bleachers, symphony players warmed up, and parents set up their recording devices (some scanning the room with their smart phones). But when William Curry jogged to the podium, a reverent silence magically replaced the noise and in a moment, music by Tchaikovsky (“Waltz” from Sleeping Beauty) filled the air.

This was a special occasion. Durham Symphony was celebrating with their 40th Anniversary Season; Kidznotes marked year six; and violinist Deborah Kim performed the first movement of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. However, there were even more reasons to applaud.

Maestro Curry welcomed the audience. He talked about the first two ballet selections, explained the music, and retold stories about the composers and their works – all with the skill of an accomplished teacher.

Curry introduced the winner of the 2016 Concerto Competition, Kim. He praised her for her accomplishments, including her Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 15 (and chuckled as he said  “. . .and I made my debut at age 34.”) Specially dressed for the occasion, her hair in a ponytail, she looked poised and confident. With years of practice under her belt, Kim was completely prepared. More telling, her first notes, were perfectly in tune. She made the runs seem effortless, smiled during rests, and played lyrical statements with a beautiful, warm vibrato. Her young listeners were spellbound; parents were still – all the while under the watchful eyes of her teacher, Shelley Livingston. The audience stood and provided a thunderous applause. This was indeed, a proud moment.

There were more accolades to go around. Omar Ruiz-Lopez, a teaching artist for Kidznotes and a violinist in the orchestra, penned the next composition. Recognizing young talent, Curry urged Ruiz-Lopez to write something for the orchestra. Ruiz-Lopez drew from the wellspring of Latin music he knew as well as the fact that he plays multiple instruments. Ruiz-Lopez knows how to fill in the measures to make a piece work – one that also included parts for children from Kidznotes. The result was a lovely single-movement work entitled “Danza Carnaval.” Congratulations, Ruiz-Lopez!

Durham Public School Honors musicians performed on two pieces: Sibelius’ “Finlandia” and Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville. It was thrilling to watch high school students play such high-level music. The orchestra also performed a Tchaikovsky march that Curry arranged and that was expertly conducted by Rashad Hayward, Kidznotes Advanced Ensemble conductor.

It was truly an afternoon to celebrate. To our good fortune, we have artistic leaders that understand the importance of serving the community. We know that music helps develop character and nourishes brains without breaking bones, and we love hearing wonderful music. Yet we continue to believe that orchestras and music education can survive on a shoestring. Once again, I find myself standing on a soapbox. 

The acoustics and decor, perfect for a basketball game, doubled as a symphony hall. Accustomed to less than ideal venues, to not having a home of their own, these hometown musicians play because they love to perform and support the community. But the symphony members played as if they were in Meymandi Hall. They remembered being kids like the ones who sat with them side-by-side – hearts pounding, eyes focused and nervous systems completely alert.

Curry understood all of this. But candidly, he shared with the audience that the City of Durham contributes nothing to the orchestra, and that if it were up to him, all concerts would be free to the public. What our city fathers miss is that ticket sales and passing the hat pay only a fraction of the expenses; and the rewards for a thriving arts community do not appear in the lines of a ledger. However, thanks to many volunteers and private contributors, the Durham Symphony gets by for another year.  

The F.M. Kirby Foundation sponsored the Young Artist Competition and this Durham Symphony Concert.

Durham Symphony will perform Pops in the Park-Trinity Park on Saturday, May 7th at 5 p.m. See our calendar for more details.