Since these particular stars were still early in their ascent, the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra properly presented “Rising Stars” to the audience in Jones Auditorium on the Meredith College campus. Showcased were four “winners of RSO’s annual statewide concerto competition.” The quality of the production seemed to justify the brochure’s invitation to “come see tomorrow’s stars today!”

But before the soloists appeared, the orchestra opened with a fine display. The sumptuous orchestration by Berlioz in his Romeo and Juliet programmatic work served as the vehicle. Conductor Emeritus Alan Neilson led the players in the full-bodied “Festivities in Capulet’s Palace,” on to the exquisite oboe solo and the sadly meditative “Romeo Alone.” The players produced the weighty and polished sound that one has come to expect, the result of thirty years’ dedication.

All the soloists chose selections that have generally proved hard sledding for even veteran performers. Such a fact began manifesting itself when violinist Dian Chen led off with the opening movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor. This senior at East Chapel Hill High School furnished nimble fingering and artistic understanding throughout that exhausting movement. Interim Music Director Jim Waddelow led the players in this greatest work of the composer, in the words of one writer, “a complete integration between symphonic and solo elements.”

Virtuosity continued with clarinetist Zi Hao Yang, 16, a junior at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. His choice was the “Alla polacca” movement of Weber’s Concerto No. 2 for Clarinet, Op. 6. The fine program notes advised that this piece showed the “technical possibilities of the clarinet,” and that it is “a cornerstone of the clarinet repertoire.” Yang did not disappoint, proving as light-fingered as any leading pianist. He seemed indefatigable as he negotiated the near-constant demands that this piece placed on the soloist.

The violin reappeared with Kevin Zheng, a 10th grader at UNC School of the arts. He chose the “Allegro maestoso” movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 6. Obviously unfazed by the Paganini repute, he seemed charmingly stoic during the long elegant tutti introduction. Winsome melodies then alternated with typical Paganini pyrotechnics, his technical wizardry on clear display.

Seventeen-year-old pianist Jie Fang continued the “fearlessness” pattern as he closed the program with the “Allegro scherzando” movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. This junior from UNC School of the Arts made this famous workhorse piece look relatively tame. Most audience members had doubtless heard this masterpiece numerous times by as many different artists. Fang’s performance here seemed on a par with many of the greats.

Powerfully supported by Neilson, Waddelow and the RSO, four budding players have here attacked and conquered four of the literature’s real “gee-whiz” selections. If these young people can continue on course, and show that they can pitch and putt as well as they can drive, their future is bright indeed.

Edited/corrected 5/8/10.