Music Review



On Youth Concerts

March 9, 2003 - Durham & Raleigh, NC:


I gotta talk to the guy who does our reviewing schedule. The weekend of March 7-9 was a busy one in the Triangle, as our reviews of several events elsewhere in these pages demonstrate, but I wound up with nothing much to do, so my other half and I decided to sample several youth concerts, to check up on the state of the art we seek to serve as exemplified by some of our regional youngsters. We've carried on before about the sad state of music education in the public schools, about the demise of what, for a better word, we'll call serious choral programs and orchestral programs and symphonic band programs and such. We've commented, too, on previous occasions that despite the apparent neglect of the arts on the parts of our public schools' administrators, there are bunches of programs for young people, mostly provided by dedicated educators and concerned musicians working outside the framework of the schools. Among these are the organization headed for years, literally, by Dorothy Kitchen, the Duke University String School, and the young people's group fielded by the Triangle Brass Band that is directed by Tony Granados, the Triangle Youth Brass Band. As it happened, both gave concerts this past weekend. And as it happened, these concerts came close on the heels of other concerts featuring student soloists, put on by the UNC Symphony Orchestra and by community orchestras in Raleigh and Durham. (Two of these performances were reviewed in CVNC .)

On our walk Sunday morning, my other half and I discussed the first of these concerts, and I happened to ask what sort of orchestral performing experiences she'd had when she was in the public schools. Her education took place back when... there were strong programs for choral and orchestral and band music in the schools of, in her case, Catawba County (and elsewhere too, of course). At UNC, she was a student of the great William S. Newman, and I knew she'd played recitals and won prizes while in high school, but for some reason I'd never asked if she had played with an orchestra before we met in Chapel Hill. She hadn't, although she recalls doing a Mozart concerto with a band(!). I relate this personal tale because even when times were said to have been good, opportunities for student pianists, say, to play with orchestras were limited. That they would appear not to be quite as rare now, even given the sad state of music education in the schools, says something....

In Baldwin Auditorium on March 8, the last of three programs put on by DUSS involved an intermediate string group, led by Stephanie Swisher, which played music by Satie and Mozart. The readings showed promise but were not by any standard ready for prime time. Still, the young musicians, whose individual instrumental training is surely all over the map in terms of years of study, need the experience of playing in groups, and there's no way to get that experience all by yourself - you gotta find a group to play in. DUSS provides that opportunity.

The main part of the concert consisted of three works played by the Duke University String School Chamber Orchestra under Kitchen's leadership. Student soloists figured in two of the three offerings. The orchestra is huge - 55 violins, 8 violas, 16 cellos, and a lone bassist. There are also four flutes, a clarinet, a timpanist and three percussionists. Two (adult) pianists fill in all the notes that are missing, due to the lack of brasses and a full woodwind complement. The results can sound a mite strange to folks familiar with professional performances, but it's a safe bet that few professional groups play with as much enthusiasm and spirit as Kitchen's kids.

In Sarasate's "Navarra," Ian Livingston and Mingyi Huang were the soloists, accompanied by the DUSSCO. The performance had a lot going for it in terms of style and excitement, although there were some little glitches here and there. We ran bad info in our calendar announcement of the next piece, which was Saint-Saëns' Violin Concerto No. 3, not the Cello Concerto No. 1. The soloist was Justin Lo (who is not a cellist!), and he did a remarkable job with the three-movement work, which was given complete. (We mention this because this is often Kitchen's norm but in most other concerto competition concerts the "winners" get to play just single movements....) The grand finale was the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Lest anyone look askance at this bit of programming, remember, please, that the RSO recently presented the final movement, all by its lonesome... (We figure that if we are patient, we will hear the middle movements before long, on someone else's concert, and then we will have heard it all!) The first movement was in preparation for quite some time. Chamber music fans who sat in on the Miró String Quartet's visit to DUSS last November, the day before that group's Raleigh concert, heard one of the early run-throughs of the Beethoven by Kitchen's group. At the public performance in Baldwin, the playing was consistently outstanding, the pacing was admirable, and the results were, in a word, terrific. There were no apparent concessions to the players' overall youth and relative inexperience - the tempi were as they should have been throughout - and the performance had all the hallmarks of the real thing, including lots of carefully sculpted dynamics, precise attacks and releases, and levels of intensity that at least two visiting geezers found amazing. The concert provided proof positive that there's hope for music in our future, after all.

In Meymandi Concert Hall on the afternoon of March 9, the Triangle Youth Brass Band offered a "Brass Day 2003" concert that illustrated the savvy of its director and sponsors and the skills of the executants. The program was laced with mainstream classical works, and the fact that some of these were presented in arrangements did not lessen their importance to the players or the audience. The classics included Dvorák's "Carnival" Overture, which was taken at a clip that reminded this listener of the old Ormandy-Philadephia recording, made when that conductor was in his prime. There were some minor glitches here and there - some miscalculations in articulation in the faster portions, and some slips in some of the slower sections, too - but these did not appreciably diminish the crowd's delight, overall. The low brasses delivered an effective rendition of "The March to the Scaffold," from Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, in this, the composer's bicentennial year. The March, from Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis (on themes of Weber) served as a rousing finale for the brief first half. In the second, the "major work" was Eric Ball's impressive "Resurgam," a hauntingly beautiful score intended for band that seems to reflect the composer's thoughts on his service during WWII. This cannot have failed to move those who heard it on this occasion, on the eve, perhaps, of yet another major war. The concert ended with the finale of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 and, as an encore, Prokofiev's March, Op. 99. In between, there were several bracing nods to Spain and a Grieg-like piece by Philip Sparke. The afternoon's soloist was Mark Clodfelter, of Giannini Brass fame, a stellar world-class trumpeter whose dazzling playing in the first Spanish number and in an arrangement of "Nessun Dorma," from Puccini's Turandot (with an interpolated high note not in the composer's original score), wowed the audience and the players alike. Clodfelter had some encouraging things to say about the TYBB, which we've long known is truly special - we've written previously that, in effect, they can run rings around many college-level bands and more advanced ones, too. The standing ovation awarded the ensemble at the end of the concert was in this case well earned.

The printed program was a class act, too, and it was further enhanced by two full pages of supplemental notes, culled from various sources by director Granados.

Regular CVNC readers will know that we don't list individual student recitals in our calendar - if we were to begin this, there'd be no end to it - but we do list concerts by student groups, and we urge area music lovers to take the opportunity from time to time to attend these performances and to assess the students' abilities. Certainly the two concerts heard this past weekend provided ample evidence of exceptional work, resulting in outstanding musicianship, overall. The kids we heard are playing good stuff, and even if they don't all stay with music as their lives unfold, it's a safe bet that music will stay with them .

While on the subject of students - and, in these cases, former students - it pleases us to provide brief career updates on two conductors who were groomed here, in the Triangle.

James Allen Anderson, currently Music Director of the Appalachian Symphony Orchestra and Director of Orchestral Activities at the Hayes School of Music at ASU, in Boone, is among eight young conductors selected to appear at the American Symphony Orchestra League's National Conductor Preview, planned for March 18-19 in Jacksonville. Anderson is the second NC-based artist to participate in this event in recent years. In 2001, NCS Assistant Conductor Jeffrey W. Pollock was likewise featured by the ASOL.

Anderson writes, "I am very excited about participating in the National Conductor Preview and the opportunity to work with the Jacksonville Symphony. It is a tremendous honor." For more information, see http://www.symphony.org/ola/preview.shtml [inactive 10/08]

And another product of the superior tutelage of UNC's Tonu Kalam (and others, including Duke's Michael Votta, Jr.), Viswa Subbaraman, has spent the season now drawing to a close in Paris, thanks to the Fulbright Program, working with Kurt Masur and John Nelson. He reports that his experiences with the senior maestro, who "has the energy of a 25-year-old," and with the Orchestre National de France and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, have been, in a word, educational , and apparently the rapport has been good all around, for Subbaraman has been invited to remain there for another year.

We look forward to hearing both of these fine conductors in the Triangle again, in due course.

[Edited & corrected 3/12/03.]