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Musicians do not spring fully formed from Apollo's head like Athena from Zeus'. It takes lots of practice from the earliest age possible. Music for Children was formed in 1962 to supplement music programs in Chapel Hill public schools and individual studios. It supports collaborative programs for students of all levels, their families, teachers, and community. Importantly, it offers funding to dedicated students who need financial assistance to further their musical education.
Based on the program's first Chamber Music Festival concert, given in the modern, spare fellowship hall of United Church of Chapel Hill, the educational efforts have been very successful indeed. The concert was preceded by a broad sampling of individual students and ensembles at various levels of training. A young lady, several inches shorter than a full-size violin, played a steady allegro by Suzuki. A violinist and a violist each sampled movements from J.S. Bach. Two duos showed generally good ensemble in a sonata by Leclair.
The central concept of the festival is to pair advanced students in ensembles or a chamber orchestra with some of the finest musicians from the region and nation. The Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, S.1067, by J. S. Bach, opened the concert in a shortened five-movement version shorn of the Sarabande and Bourrée. This is the only concerto-like work for flute by the composer that has survived. Joanna Siske-Purvis played with very good tone, superb breath control, and refined color and dynamics. She directed the performers from within the large orchestra. The Overture had sufficient gravity with a measured opening tempo. Despite the wide mix of student ages, ensemble playing was very good, whether in the slow massed opening or the give-and-take between sections. No one got lost in the lively "Badinerie," which ended the work.
No composer tests ensemble and intonation more than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart because every section is so exposed. Chapel Hill native Jennifer Curtis was the accomplished and stylish soloist in the composer's less-often-played Violin Concerto in D, K.218. She certainly has all her musical "chops" - exact control of every bowing technique, precise fingering, and a solid sense of classical style. Her intonation was amazing, whether playing high notes close to the bridge or in a full-throated lower range. Curtis cued the players from within the orchestra. Student string players matched the professionals remarkably well. The horns and woodwinds were played only by professionals.
Festival Director Matthew Chicurel conducted the string players in a balanced, solid performance of the "Andante Festivo," Op. 117a, by Jan Sibelius. It is chorale-like, and the musicians produced a full-throated, seamless flow of melodies.
Violinist Jennifer Curtis returned to play and lead two works she herself composed. She said "Death Valley" (2012) had been inspired by her "surreal" daylong experience in Death Valley. Curtis played a duet with herself. She had laid down an improvised track on a recording and used about every "arrow" – double stops, harmonics close to the bridge, ricochet bowing, pizzicato, and spiccato – in the violinist's quiver to weave a vast tapestry of sound as she played into a microphone. Occasional sections seemed reminiscent of music of Romania or the Balkans.
A reduced string orchestra supported Curtis in her "Kapalabhati" ("Shinning Skull") (March 2012). This refers to some breathing exercise in yoga. An unidentified percussionist sat on and played an Andean drum. Curtis conjured vast washes or tapestries in sound surrounding her spectacular violin playing. High points of this work were a "jam session" between Curtis and her drummer and her duet with cellist Gretchen Gettes, pairing violin fireworks set against a soulful cello melody.
Jennifer Curtis was a winner of Astral's 2006 National Auditions and the recipient of the inaugural Milka/Astral Violin Prize. Her February 2009 performance in Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall was very favorably reviewed in the February 24, 2009, New York Times.