The Philharmonic Association – Triangle Youth Music program gave its 25th Anniversary Celebration this weekend at the charming Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, just a short drive from Raleigh and home to many local events that are quite enjoyable on its rolling lawn set on the edge of Regency Park’s modest lake. If you weren’t up for participating in the Ironman triathlon running through most of Raleigh, this celebration was the perfect alternative: the day threatened storms, but only some giant, fluffy clouds and a mild breeze broke up the sunny, early-summer day so typical in this state. Blankets and chairs dotted the yard, guests had the option to order a picnic, bring some refreshments, or visit the Crescent Café.

As a celebration of its years of talented students, directors, and “extraordinary volunteers” as they were noted in the back of the program, each ensemble from the Philharmonic Association played a short set or one larger-scale work, with a finale by a combined alumni orchestra made up entirely of past members of these ensembles. The students presented impressive works after their long year of hard work and dedication to music, and the alumni gave an equally stirring performance, even considering that they had only limited rehearsal together before this concert!

The Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble II performed selections from its inaugural season as an ensemble, ending with a rousing rendition of Herbie Hancock’s classic “Chameleon” – a must-have for an ensemble of any merit, as the TYJE II certainly proved. This ensemble is an outgrowth of the Wake Forest Youth Jazz Ensemble led by Lisa Burn and is a big band jazz group for advanced middle and high schoolers. Following this ensemble was the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble (the original), which is a jazz group for the same age group as TYJE II, but focusing on a more diverse range of jazz styles, including salsa, improvisatory solos, and regular yearly participation in the Essentially Ellington festival from Jazz at Lincoln Center. This ensemble, conducted by Gregg Gelb, performed several Duke Ellington pieces from the festival among others, and included several highly talented soloists on percussion, clarinet, saxophone, trombone, and trumpet.

After recognizing the past board presidents and allowing for some transition time, the Triangle Youth String Orchestras presented a combined performance of a work commissioned for this particular event, Craig Hanemann’s “Jubilant Festival” for string orchestra. Marta Findlay-Partridge leads the enthusiastic orchestra of 4th through 12th graders, who normally are split into TYSO-East and TYSO-West; they played cohesively on this new work. The next work was also commissioned for the 25th anniversary: Robert Nosow’s “Spokes of Light,” performed by the Triangle Youth Orchestra, conducted by Tim Kohring. This ensemble is for intermediate students with less orchestra experience, but they were truly “spokes of light” in this performance with their passionate playing of this lovely work.

The Triangle Youth Symphony, directed by McCrae Hardy, is for “moderately advanced musicians,” but they played like professionals in their zealous performance of a complex work, “Fanfare” by Tom Lohr, commissioned for the 20th anniversary of the Philharmonic Association. All three composers of these commissioned works are NC natives, and Hanemann and Nosow actually got to rehearse their compositions before this performance, adding strength to the already blossoming friendship among musicians in the Triangle. The last student group to perform was the advanced-level Triangle Youth Philharmonic, under director Hugh Partridge, who was celebrated at this concert for his 25 years of service by the pledges of the Robert Broughton Carr Family Endowment in conjunction with Phillip A. Fusco and his wife Angela Carr Fusco, resulting in the establishment of the Hugh Partridge Chair for the TYP conductor position. TYP performed Terry Mizesko’s Sundays at Shackleford Banks with unmatchable vigor.

After a brief intermission – and most of the audience retreating to the covered porch, where parent volunteers were conveniently preparing anniversary sheet cakes – the alumni took the stage. Conducted again by Hugh Partridge, they opened with Modest Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev,” most popularly known as the main movement of Pictures at an Exhibition. This fanfare of a work featured a strong, well-balanced brass section with a huge, sonorous block of sound that took the audience by surprise. Following that classic work was another favorite, “Ave Maria” by Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged for orchestra with harp and solo violin by Charles Gounod. The first verse is a tender interplay between solo harp and solo violin, followed by a verse for the full ensemble.

A lesser-known work followed, Franz von Suppé’s Poet and Peasant Overture. Melodies rotated around sections of the orchestra, featuring a string choir, brass choir, fanfare for the full orchestra, and a few expertly played solo cello sections. The closing work was “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius, a fantastic choice to end the program with a bang – but not before a short quote from Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss as the cake was unveiled.

This three-hour extravaganza honored the students, parents, staff, sponsors, and alumni of the Philharmonic Association. I would have loved to see more of the general public out for an afternoon of music and refreshment, but the sun was almost unbearably hot without an umbrella or shade. Luckily some respite could be found in the shade, and if the admission price to this event was just a little sweat, it was well worth the cost!