March 17, 2013 – Aspiring young musicians who win competitions among their peers need a stage to demonstrate those talents to the larger community. The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra provides that very service. On the first of two evenings in Jones Auditorium, these players hosted those Meredith College students who won The Twenty-eighth Annual Student Concerto/Aria Competition. For this year’s edition, all four of the winners were vocal performers, so it was strictly an aria evening.

Conductor Jim Waddelow established the operatic spirit of the program, opening with a lively reading of the Overture to Rossini’s opera, The Barber of Seville.

First up was junior Christina Hunt and “Una donna quindici anni” from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte. Her sparkling soprano, belted out boldly, made for an appropriately saucy and salty servant girl, Despina. From Orfeo ed Euridice  by Gluck came “Che faro senza Euridice,” the vehicle for senior Maegan Coble. Here the singer enjoyed a built-in advantage: one of the most appealing arias in all the literature, the “pants role” wherein Orfeo desperately cries out for Euridice. This singer’s golden mezzo could put one in mind of some of the greats who “own” this aria, say, Agnes Baltsa or Shirley Verrett.

Before the next singers, Waddelow and the orchestra furnished an entr’acte of sorts with “Andante Funebre” by the Oslo-born composer and violinist, Johan Svendsen (1840-1911). While perhaps a bit lugubrious, this little known work proved to be a true gem, showing the players at their very finest.

In choosing “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca, a specialty of every leading soprano who ever lived, junior Kierra Houser won the prize for bravery. But this fine soprano was up to the soaring highs and the dramatic demands of that tortured lamentation by the title character of the story. Soprano Jennifer Pascal gave the audience a preview of the role she will play this summer in Italy. Here was a stylish and polished performance as the Countess, in this scene a truly tormented soul, singing “Dove sono I bei momenti” from Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart.

March 17, 2013 – On this, the second evening featuring competition winners in Jones Auditorium, the sponsoring Raleigh Symphony Orchestra reprised the same pair of standalone stalwarts from the day before. Presented again were the aforementioned Overture of Rossini and the “Andante Funebre” of Svendsen. The latter piece was again such a surprising success that herewith is a vote to make it a standard in the general repertory of orchestral pleasures.

In this “Rising Stars” program all three of the young participants were violinists, all aspiring artists of exceptional grace. Sarah Cox, a freshman at East Carolina University, chose the Allegro movement of Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14, to display striking composure and poise. The overall effect of her confident effort and the strong support by the players was forceful indeed.

The Finale of Tchiakovsky’s Violin Concerto, Op. 35 was Yong-hun Kim’s vehicle of choice. With seemingly nominal exertion, this 15-year-old from Chapel Hill brought the requisite fire and wizardry to the fiendish demands of this movement. It was easy to see why he is already the winner of so many notable honors and competitions.

Speaking of honors, there do not seem to be many that Aria Cheregosha at seventeen has not won. That she is competent on viola, violin and piano bespeaks her uncommon versatility. For this production, she went to the “apex” of the string literature, choosing the final Rondo movement from Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D. How does one bring the desired technical and spiritual dimensions to such a piece? This violinist successfully blazed her own path, showing remarkable musical aplomb. To her great credit, she has apparently learned much from the host of notables who have gone before.

The seven young musicians featured on these two successive evenings have reached this level by dedication and no lack of hard work. The competition each one faced was intense. The music community owes a huge debt to them, to their mentors, and to Meredith College and the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra for providing such a wonderful and supportive venue.