The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director Jim Waddelow, gave an excellent concert showcasing the talents of three young musicians, the winners of RSO’s “Rising Stars” concerto competition. The concert program itself provided a contrast of traditional and contemporary music by featuring both Brahms’ interpretations of Haydn and Haydn himself as well as two modern and relatively less well-known flute concertos. Certainly the orchestra did a wonderful job of maintaining this contrast and supporting the soloists.

The orchestra opened with Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56, a series of eight contrasting variations sandwiched between an introduction and finale. The introduction presents the main theme: an old hymn known as the “Chorale St. Anthony” used by Haydn in one of his divertimenti for wind instruments. With each following variation, the orchestra moves from orderly and homophonic styles to unusual orchestrations and increased dramatics. This allows the orchestra to offer a variety of textures, moving rapidly from triumphant cadences to pastoral melodies. Even in very soft dynamics, the orchestra maintained vibrant energy.

After playing these variations on Haydn, the orchestra transitioned to Haydn himself – particularly the Rondo movement of Haydn’s Concerto in D, featuring pianist Emmaline Pedigo, a student of Karen Allred. (Pedigo’s bio is here, along with those of the other two winners.) Even as Pedigo crossed the stage to sit at the piano, she was the epitome of gracefulness. Whether supported by the orchestra through the exchange of short imitative phrases or soaring above the texture with rapid cadenzas, Pedigo maintained her grace and accuracy throughout. While imitating melodic motives of the orchestra, she also managed to incorporate much of the character of the keyboard instrument for which Haydn intended it. With cadences led by the piano, the concerto ended triumphantly and well unified.

Carl’s Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, which featured Helen Kim, is an intriguingly beautiful and modern piece that seems to tell a story. Although the story itself is ultimately unclear and unknown, the changing characters are clear to the listener. Kim adeptly navigated these characters, abruptly switching from abstract pizzicato motives to flowing, pastoral melodies and back again. Her articulation proved to be crucial to the ever-changing textures, as it was necessary to echo the precise articulations of the many orchestral instruments. This concerto also seems to contain worldwide influences, such as the romantic imagery of 20th-century Russian ballet and unpredictable syncopation. Kim’s leaping cadenzas were quite spectacular, especially since it was quite obvious that she had internalized the changing and difficult meter of her passages.

The final piece, the Concertino for Flute and Orchestra by Otar Gordeli, featured the fabulous flutist Sarah Mitchener who, like Kim, studies with Tadeu Coelho at the UNCSA. Like the previous concerto, Gordeli’s concerto also reminds the listener of Russian ballet due to its drama; fascinatingly, influences of Gershwin and jazz music are also present. After a strong orchestral introduction complete with sharp muted brass, Mitchener’s entrance was immediately the center of attention, as she expressively played the opening theme. Her melody was very lyrical and decorated by trills, with some altered tones suggesting influences of jazz. Mitchener’s expression allowed her to be fully invested in the music, even when she was not playing. After a series of rapid and leaping motives, the concerto drew to a close with final repetitions of the grand theme.