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There was a time in Venice when citizens flocked to the Ospedele della Pietà, one of four charitable institutions housing orphaned and abandoned children, to hear some of the best performances in the city. It didn't matter that the performers were young and indigent, dependent on the city's charity, for they had received some of the best training from their teacher, Antonio Vivaldi, and musically speaking they were the toast of the town. And thus, the seeds of Europe's first music conservatories were sown. It was no stretch of the imagination to think of this in connection to I Solisti di Brevard's concert, for here was a select, auditioned group of young (high school) players performing an "annual favorite" concert of the Brevard Music Center Chamber Music Series. The Porter Center at Brevard College was the perfect venue for the event. Fourteen string players, three trumpeters, and a brass quintet performed a chronologically arranged earliest-to-later sequence of charming works. The ensemble performed standing, with no conductor, and was arranged in a U shape, with violins facing one another and basso continuo (with Bruce Murray on the harpsichord) at the back.
Opening the program was a brass quintet stationed in the balcony playing a set of four short keyboard pieces by Giles Farnaby (c. 1563-1640) from The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, arranged into a suite entitled Fancies, Toyes and Dreames edited by Philip Jones and Elgar Howarth. The pieces were individually titled "The Old Spagnoletta," "His Rest," "Tell mee Daphne," and "A Toye." ("Fancies, toyes, and dreams" also happens to be a phrase from Shakespeare's King Edward III.) The ensemble (Kevin Paul and Alex Samawicz, trumpets, Andrew Fierova, horn, Justin Moore, trombone, and Rachel Matz, tuba) was tight and beautifully in tune.
Next was Henry Purcell's (1659-1695) Sonata for Trumpet and Strings in D, a small-scale three-movement work (Allegro-Adagio [in which the soloist was tacet]-Allegro) featuring faculty member Mark Hughes, currently principal trumpet of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Hearing Hughes' marvelous playing is to understand why excellent trumpeters were treated like royalty at that time.
The last work before intermission was the showstopper, J. S. Bach's Concerto in D minor for two violins, strings, and continuo, S.1043. Student soloists Brandon Garbot and Annie Bender exhibited some of the most amazing playing of the evening as they deftly worked their way through Bach's relentless score, resulting in a standing ovation and several curtain calls.
After intermission came Georg Philipp Telemann's (1681-1767) Concerto for trumpet, two oboes, strings, and continuo in D, performed as a triple piccolo trumpet concerto (no oboes) with soloist Hughes joined by Mark Schubert (faculty) and Alex Samavicz (student). This work consists of four movements (Allegro-Adagio-Aria-Allegro) instead of the usual three. The added "Aria" was unique for its walking bass accompaniment to the lyrical soloists' melodies and tacet violins. The last movement sounded a bit ragged and could have benefited, perhaps, from a different placement of the instruments. Positioning the harpsichord in its traditional place in the middle of the ensemble where the keyboardist could double as conductor rather than at the back might have helped here.
Capping the evening was Mozart's Serenade for strings in G, K.525 ("Eine kleine Nachtmusik"). By this time, I sensed some fatigue and wandering focus from the ensemble, as there were intonation and ensemble problems. Movement three ("Menuetto Allegretto") sounded dogged rather than elegant, as if the performers were determined to make it to the end. Still and all, to consider the totality of what these young players had accomplished during the evening was extraordinary, a feat deserving the highest praise.