In many respects, Greenville’s Music House suggests the Harper House, Hickory’s famous residential showplace, albeit with some significant differences. The Harper House is a bit older than the Pitt County mansion – and the latter is privately owned. There are nonetheless many parallels, in the form of exceptional woodwork and paneling, a riot of mixed, boldly-patterned wallpapers (even on ceilings), and altogether breath-taking furnishings. For reasons that, in retrospect, aren’t clear, the Harper House isn’t used as a concert venue, although it would appear to be ideal for chamber music. The fact that the Music House is, well, a music house significantly adds to its charm and its urban utility.

The Music House is the home of John O’Brien, a mainstay of ECU’s School of Music, an artistic oasis in Eastern NC in its own right, but not the best place for keeping a private collection of musical instruments – keyboards of various kinds and vintages, harps, and much, much more. The Music House offers comfortable, close-in seating for chamber music and recitals that is a throw-back to the days of great homes of the past, times when such programs were actually given in elegant chambers, played (and sung) within reach of listeners whose enjoyment was often bolstered by refreshments, before and/or after (and sometimes during) the performances. Kind of like the Music House.

A SRO crowd assembled on a Friday evening for a benefit concert for the lovely place itself and for its forthcoming Summer Baroque/Classical Festival, which takes place next week, over a four-day period, starting July 24. The artists participating in the benefit concert were members of another O’Brien music program, the Eastern Youth Orchestra(s), which (one suspects) draws the best talent from counties surrounding Pitt, much as the Triangle’s Philharmonic Association orchestras (yes, there are several in both locations) provide symphonic and chamber music opportunities for some of the best young players in Wake, Durham, and Orange counties.

Things got underway with the first movement of Mozart’s first piano quartet, one of the gems of the literature, despite its publisher’s misgivings. This was handsomely introduced by several of the young artists, setting the composer and the music in an ideal context. The players were Anna, Erik, and David Wright (respectively, violin, viola, and cello), with the sage and masterful O’Brien playing a fortepiano copied from the last instrument Mozart himself owned (by Anton Walter). The results were consistently engaging, and the players were rewarded with enthusiastic applause.

While the stage was re-set for the Mendelssohn, O’Brien graciously consented to permit some remarks about CVNC and the non-profit, online cultural journalism programs offered here in the State of the Arts and at SFCV and CVNA.

Mendelssohn’s Octet, for two sets of string quartets, is an ideal work for super-talented youngsters, inasmuch as he penned it at the ripe old age of 16 (imagine that!). The work bubbles and surges with energy and exuberance, and these artists got into the spirit with a vengeance, right from the start. More interaction among the players, and greater attention to dynamics and interpretive subtleties, will surely come in due course. The first and concluding movements were played, providing a generous sampling of the magical score and a convincing demonstration of the players’ current artistic prowess. The artists were Brian Lin, Elodie Manalo, Belinda Hu, and Charles Zhu, violins, Harrison Miller and Lou Jantzen, violas, and Ewan Manalo and Ed Bailey, with the latter – a recent ECU grad – filling in for Alex Lavine. Otherwise, the players ranged in age from 8 to 18. Think about that! (Reminds me of the old critic’s lament: Ah, to be so young again – and so talented!)

Cookies and milk (or decaf coffee) were served up at the reception. This is clearly the place to be for music in that part of our state!

For details of next week’s festival, see our calendar. Reservations are recommended.

Note: CVNC‘s Eastern NC writers will be present for these concerts, and members of the non-profit’s staff and board will be on hand for the opening and closing ones, during which there will be a discussion of “Musicians, Critics, or Audience:  Who Knows Best?” Please come hear some wonderful music with us and join the conversation, too!