After hearing a group of talented young student musicians perform so ably at Guilford College during the Eastern Music Festival this summer, one felt a sense of satisfaction that the next generation of classically trained players will one day step into vacant chairs of professional orchestras and ensembles around the country without skipping a beat. A similar feeling of satisfaction, even joy, came after hearing a smaller group of talented young student musicians take the stage with Ara Gregorian during a special program that is part of the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival’s 10th anniversary season.

The program was called, appropriately enough, a “Next Generation Concert” and combined the considerable talents of Gregorian and five of his East Carolina University music faculty colleagues, a top-level guest artist who has been part of past Four Seasons programs, a recent ECU graduate who is studying in Southern California and more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate music students in the ECU string program.  That these students received the opportunity to play (1) side-by-side with skilled music teachers and performers, and (2) in public before an appreciative audience, is quite important. That these students acquitted themselves so admirably in bringing the audience a program of wonderful music making is quite an achievement.

The program would have made a fine spring outdoor concert, with gorgeous melodies by Grieg, Dvořák and Brahms filling the air. Grieg’s ever-popular “Holberg” Suite opened the program, and the 20 string players gave the lyrical, melodious composition a very good, at times sparkling, reading. Fourteen students, joined by Gregorian on violin, Melissa Reardon and Jorge Richter on viola, Emanuel Gruber and special guest Michael Kannen on cello and Christopher Buddo on bass, played well throughout the five movements, even without a conductor. Crisp attacks, singing melody lines and nice contrasts in dynamics all marked the performance. The four celli sounded especially good in the second Sarabande movement. The only shortcoming came in the fourth movement (Air: Andante Religioso), in which the violins experienced a slight intonation problem, but that was corrected by the first repeat of the theme. Gregorian and Reardon engaged in a lively duet in the quick-tempo dance of the final Rigaudon movement, approaching a fiddle hoedown in feeling.

Smaller ensembles played two movements from Dvořák’s Sextet in A, Op. 48, and one movement from Brahms’ Sextet in B-flat, Op. 18, and the students certainly carried their weight alongside the teachers. The Dvořák sections were sheer melody; the Brahms, a famous theme-and-variations that is part of one of his finest chamber compositions. The second Dvořák section, the Furiant: Presto Movement, went beyond lively, and sophomore Caroline Cox from Southern Pines, playing second violin, met all the demands of the piece, as did senior Stephen Duran from Raleigh, playing one of the two cello parts.

The program closed with the wonderful Brahms Piano Quintet in F-minor, Op. 34, which has been part of previous Four Seasons programs. ECU faculty member Keiko Sekino, on piano, joined Gregorian, Reardon and Kannen, while ECU graduate Leonardo Perez, who is studying with Hagai Shaham at the University of Southern California, played second violin (he also played second violin in the first Dvořák Sextet movement). The ensemble offered an excellent performance of the quintet, from its forceful opening and lovely trios in the first movement (Allegro non troppo), through the dramatic tension of the third movement (Scherzo: Allegro) to the emotional and elegant scoring of the final movement (Poco Sostenuto, Allegro non troppo). Sekino’s piano lines served as both accompaniment and lead instrument, and she combined subtle shadings with strength and force as the score dictated. Kannen’s cello sang throughout with such a wonderful tone, and his pizzicato passages added their own special music to the playing.

A second “Next Generation Concert” is scheduled in late March. Gregorian and his colleagues and their students certainly aced the first program.