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The whole family was there: Dorothy and Joe Kitchen, daughter Julia, son Nicholas and his spouse Yeesun Kim, and grandson Christopher, who’s already making his musical marks. Baldwin Auditorium was packed with two full orchestras-worth of students, former students (including first student India Cooke, now at Mills College), and long-time friends and admirers from all over.
And meanwhile, there was this gala celebration and farewell to deal with. It was an occasion, as someone once said. And it was very much a family affair, as teaching and music, too, generally are. It was festive. It was bittersweet, for the transition of the Duke University String School is underway (and it looks like it will be in good hands). The evening went on a tad too long, keeping some of us up past our bedtimes. But it was not to be missed by anyone who has been touched by Dorothy Kitchen or any member of her family over the past, well, 50 years or so.
Following an ovation that lasted many minutes, she bade us all welcome.
Then from the stage, Nicholas began the evening with remarks, conjuring up the aria of Kaspar in Amahl and the Night Visitors (in a performance of which, long ago, he sang) before taking up his own little magic box to play – with breathtaking depth of feeling – two movements from the first Bach Sonata for solo violin, music that effectively consecrated the whole program, right from the top. The eyes of a stage-full of young players were upon him – along with the surely spellbound eyes of everyone in the hall.
The Intermediate (II) Orchestra then played music by Vivaldi, William Ostijn, and Leroy Anderson, directed by Stephanie Swisher and Robert Rempher (Ostijn) and along the way featuring young soloists Freddie Huang and Aaron Wei (in the Vivaldi) and Iris Chen (in the very attractive Ostijn serenade).
There was a pause some mistook for an intermission while the Duke University String School Orchestra was (very rapidly) seated.
A small subset of those young players provided bracing accompaniment for Joshua Facello as Shelley Livingston conducted Vivaldi's "Spring" Concerto, which sounded fresh and clean, as if the musicians were playing it for the first time in a public performance – which, of course, many of them were. Facello was amazing; that Nicky guy better look out, for serious competition is on the horizon, coming from a kid who is probably younger than NK was when we first heard him. And the orchestra sounded great, too, playing as if this were the most important thing in the world at that moment, which of course it was.
Livingston retreated, and Dorothy Kitchen came on stage to conduct with her son and grandson (who studies with his grandmother via Skype) and the full ensemble in the opening movement of Bach's Concerto in D Minor, S.1043, for two violins. She used a pencil in place of a baton, a long-time custom. The three were a triumphant triumvirate – and with Yeesum Kim sitting in the cello section, the family affair that was this evening's big party was at last complete.
The aforementioned cellist then came forward to perform, under DK's watchful leadership, the last two movements of Elgar's Concerto, one of the gems of the repertoire. Kim's eloquence and passion in this profoundly moving music stirred this listener deeply; the interpretation served to remind all present of the supreme mastery of an extraordinary artist whom we in the Triangle are so richly blessed to have "adopted" when NK brought her home to Durham to marry her. The applause again lasted many minutes.
DK then brought the formal part of the program to a festive close with the finale of Dvořák's "New World" Symphony, familiar to many but new for some of the players, most certainly. They looked bright-eyed if not bushy-tailed as the music seemed to glow from within, for one last time, for the evening's exceptional honoree.
The planned encore (listed in the program!) brought a baker's dozen (or more) former students from the audience to the lip of the stage to augment the orchestra for a repeat of the Bach concerto movement, at the end of which the conductor looked immensely pleased. (One might have called this a big hat trick of sorts, even if some in attendance – and some readers, too – might not get the joke.)
The NCSSM's Scott Laird, a DUSS parent, presided over sundry remarks, tributes, and presentations – of plaques, gifts, a notebook full of greetings, artwork from Haiti, and more. This part of the evening consumed a good deal more time than the planners anticipated, I reckon, but DK was in the thick of everything, clearly having the time of her life.
One could have opened a flower shop with the bouquets that were presented, and the re-sale of those flowers could have gone a long way toward undergirding the cost of running DUSS(!).
And there was also a reception, in the adjoining music building.
The big bash was part of a full weekend that began with a concert by beginning and intermediate ensembles in the afternoon and was capped by chamber music the following day. Ultimately, Dorothy was responsible for all this. Let us give her thanks and praise. And we may send money, too, in her honor, to help support the (largely self-sustaining) school. To do that, make checks payable to DUSS and send them to Box 90667, Durham, NC 27708-0667.
I can't let this go without a personal note. Dorothy and all the rest of the Kitchens have played some major roles in my life as a music lover (first, last, and always) and a critic (secondarily). DK reminds me that I gave Nicky his first professional review. We rejoiced as his career grew, his art making him along the way the greatest of our home-grown players on stages that dot the globe. Yeesun is in that stratosphere too, as of course is the Borromeo String Quartet, of which they form precisely half. Joe and Dorothy encouraged the flowering of Nick's talent. Locally, Giorgio Ciompi, late founder of Duke's Ciompi Quartet, helped nurture his skills and abilities. But Nicky's hardly alone – just think of the hundeds of kids – thousands, perhaps – whose lives have been enriched through music because of these teachers and advocates. There's much for which we may be thankful and many people to whom we are indebted. Soon-to-be Conductor Emerita Dorothy K and her family are right up there at the top of the heap.
PS I know it's not considered proper to call artists by their first names in a formal review but – have mercy! – they're all Kitchens but one – and she married into the family!