The arts are said to be in crisis, and there’s less and less money for arts education, but participation in, say, youth orchestras, continues to increase, so while the school systems and traditional arts funders twiddle their thumbs, people who really care are doing things – and bravo for that!

In Wake County, the Philharmonic Association, a 501(c)(3) organization, seems to survive mostly on fees and gifts from the private sector. It fields three orchestras that involve, all told, around 260 young musicians, and during two concerts, on November 21 and 23, they drew bigger crowds to Meymandi Concert Hall than many “professional” outfits.

The first concert, presented on the afternoon of November 21 in competition with several other musical events, involved the PA’s “senior” group, the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, led by Hugh Partridge, Artistic Director of the umbrella organization and Conductor of the TYP. This orchestra has 96 members and was augmented by three guests for part of its concert. The program consisted of music by Mozart, Saint-Saëns, Offenbach, and Holst, composers who grace concerts given by pros around the world. The Overture to The Magic Flute was taken at a stately pace that underscored the seriousness of the opera. In “Danse Macabre” and the Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld, there can have been few complaints concerning tempi or execution. Three movements from The Planets formed an attractive suite and were realized so beautifully that one wished the TYP had played the entire work. There was strength in the strings, of course, but also in the winds and brass, which have rarely seemed more secure. The orchestra looked good, too, and nicely filled the platform in our largest regional concert hall. The printed program, in color, was a class act, as well, in keeping with the rest of the afternoon.

We must remember that this is the senior group of the PA, but it’s still a training orchestra. There were some little glitches, here and there – some premature entries, some wayward horn passages, some lapses in ensemble. What impressed, consistently, were the strong sense of forward motion and the overall musicianship. The dynamics, too, were very nicely managed.

The TYP rotates its section leaders, and there are three concertmasters(!) and many co-principals. This spreads around the solos, too, and there were many fine ones, throughout the program, involving, among others, the violins, cellos, oboes, clarinets, and more. These players and their colleagues were warmly applauded throughout the afternoon.

The TYP has played at such high levels for so long it should come as no surprise that it has been selected to perform for the January 15 second inauguration of Governor Easley. Bravo to our fine young players, who represent our best hopes for the future!

The other two parts of the PA family performed on November 23 in the same venue. It’s one thing to have a youth orchestra, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to have three of them. For many youngsters, the 66-member Triangle Youth Orchestra, led by Jeremy Gibbs and Jacqueline Saed, is an entry-point into the symphonic world. The TYO plays shortened and simplified arrangements of classic works, and sometimes they seem a bit corny, but when one reflects on the music – by Bizet, Sibelius, Mascagni, Verdi, and Rimsky-Korsakov – and on the preparations that have gone into the pieces – it becomes clear that this is a very big and a very important deal. The National Anthem was quite slow, but the rest were played with spirit and at high enough levels, and the performances gave considerable pleasure.

The second-tier group, the Triangle Youth Symphony, occupies more than middle ground between the TYO and the TYP, for sometimes its performances are as polished and as good as the upper level ensemble. On this occasion, the TYS’s program encompassed a Fanfare and “Arrayment” by M.L. Daniels – the second portion was a substantial and fascinating piece – and well-known works by Mozart, Berlioz, Vaughan Williams, and Tchaikovsky. As with the TYP, there was good international representation in the bill of fare – and within the orchestra, too! And the performances, led by Tony Robinson and Marta C. Findlay-Partridge, were consistently enjoyable. Mozart is hard, but the Overture to Don Giovanni was mostly rock-solid. The Hungarian March from Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust was better still – it moved along briskly and with great flair. In Vaughan Williams’ “Greensleeves” Fantasia, the strengths of the string section heads were manifest, and guest harpist Emily Laurance made wonderful contributions. Some of the best-known dances from Nutcracker brought the program to a happy close. We are richly blessed to have these orchestras in Wake County. Their success shows that music matters – and merits our support. Someone needs to remind the school systems sometime…, and the arts councils that make so much noise about supporting arts education programs….