While some high school- and college-age youth go to summer camp to make lanyards and swim and ride horses, or improve their athletic skills, others learn the devilishly tricky rhythms and harmonies of classical composers such as Copland and Ginastera. Under the names Eastern Symphony Orchestra and Guilford Symphony Orchestra, more than 150 young musicians, ages 14 to 22 and representing many states and several foreign countries, come together each summer as part of the Eastern Music Festival for both instruction and performance. This year’s class helped kick off the 48th festival in splendid fashion at Guilford College’s Dana Auditorium in a program filled with challenges.

With festival music director Gerard Schwarz leading the Eastern Symphony Orchestra, the young players acquitted themselves well in readings of Berlioz’s “Le Carnaval Romain” and Arthur Foote’s symphonic prologue “Francesca da Rimini.” Resident conductor Jose-Luis Novo led the Guilford Symphony Orchestra in fine performances of Copland’s El Salon Mexico and Ginastera’s Estancia: Four Dances.

Schwarz didn’t cut the players any slack in the spirited “Roman Carnival” Overture, maintaining a brisk tempo throughout. Despite the pace, attacks and cutoffs remained crisp, and the blend of instruments brought forth the bright sheen so often found in Berlioz’s works. The brass section, though small, was noteworthy, and 22-year-old Rachel Becker’s solo on English horn at the opening was quite lovely.

The work by Foote received its premier in 1891 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as the ensemble was achieving world-class stature, and the piece received a splendid performance by the young musicians at Guilford. This is a full-bodied romantic piece that relies on rich string sounds, and the ESO strings were up to the task. Though not well known, the composition offers musical tension, emotion and passion in its melodic passages. The ending, with winds played over the softest tremolo strings, is beautiful as it moves toward a single soft chord.

Copland’s El Salon Mexico requires bright brass and winds, precisely timed percussion and nimble string playing, and Novo received all this and more from his players. In particular, 20-year-old Matthew Bloomfield gave expert solo trumpet passages, with 21-year-old Roddy Terrell (of Cameron, NC) providing nice responses on the clarinet and engaging in a well-executed dialog with 17-year-old concertmaster Sarah Land. The players kept up with the demands of the tricky rhythms throughout, which might have created problems for less skilled musicians.

Ginastera’s mid-20th century dances seemed to bridge Copland’s piece and more modern late-century works, perhaps even previewing minimalist works such as those by Glass or Adams. The opening dance, “Las troubajadores agricolas” (“Workers of the Land”) initially sounded like music written for a 1930s black-and-white film documentary on industrial progress, for example. Yet the composition also contained moments of beauty, especially the second “Danza del trigo” (“Dance of the Wheat”), with its nice solo flute passage, played by 19-year-old Jacob Mende-Fridkis, and lush string section behind Ms. Land’s solo lines. The third dance, “Los peones de hacienda” (“The cowboys”) returned to the nervous energy of the first movement, while the fourth dance, “Danza final” (“Malambo”), closely resembled the Copland piece. Sulaiman Ismail, a 20-year-old timpanist, and Paul Casens, a 21-year-old xylophonist, were especially notable.
The audience was relatively small for the performance, but the quality of the music-making was quite high. Those seeking out skilled musicians on the rise need look no further than the young artists at the Eastern Music Festival, who will play, among other works, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and part of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony July 9; Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra July 10; Shostakovich’s “Festival Overture” and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony July 16; Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony July 17; Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances July 23; Brahms’ First Symphony July 24; and Richard Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” July 31.  

See our Triad calendar for more details.