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We've been consumed with wonder and amazement this year by the wildlife in our inside-the-beltline neighborhood, in the capital. Alongside the fairly customary chipmunks, bats, 'possums, and raccoons (a mamma and two chilluns have been frequent visitors), at least one member of a family of foxes - two kits, their mother, and the apparent father - has come calling almost every night since Memorial Day. (I've put a baby picture on my Facebook page - for our conservative friends, this can be a new iteration of fox news….) I mention all this because it's been truly wonderful to watch all these creatures grow up - almost as wonderful as our recurring opportunities hereabouts to watch wonderfully talented young artists grow up in our midst. We seem to have had more than our fair share of exceptional talents sprout in the all-encompassing artistic embrace of the Triangle, where there are still plenty of opportunities to study, master ensemble skills, and perform for friendly and supportive audiences. To cite just one example: violinist Nicky Kitchen, whom some of us remember when his feet barely touched the floor as he waited outside Giorgio Ciompi's studio for his lessons, is representative of the many children of this region who have gone on to achieve national and in some cases international artistic renown. Lucky us!
The latest example of this watch-'em-grow-up-and-flower syndrome involves Maia Cabeza, the Argentinian-American violinist of Japanese birth, and Durham-born pianist Andrew Tyson, who, since November, has been giving frequent concerts hereabouts. Both have been heavily influenced by Curtis - the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia. Tyson completed his work there, chiefly with Claude Frank, last year, and he's now at Juilliard, being honed by Robert McDonald; his teachers here included Thomas Otten at UNC. Cabeza went to Curtis at the ripe young age of 13 and, at 19, remains there. Her teachers include Ida Kavafian and Joseph Silverstein, who carry on the outstanding work done here by UNC's Richard Luby. (Cabeza was concertmistress of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic when she left the region for Curtis, and you could hear the sighs of relief from the orchestra's other violinists - and their parents - because otherwise she'd have held that leadership position for years!)
Anyway, Cabeza, the lovely little girl with the prodigious talent, has become a beautiful young woman with technique and artistry to burn, and she teamed up with Tyson over the weekend for a knock-out recital in Hill Hall (recently given an acoustic upgrade!), presented as part of the Music on the Hill Emerging Artists series. This was no ordinary program, either. Generally, when our young artists come home, they play pretty much mainstream fare, but this was hardly an example of that. No, the lineup encompassed Stravinksy's Suite italienne (in the violin and piano version, prepared with Samuel Dushkin; it's the closest the Russian master came to a violin sonata), Richard Strauss' only Violin Sonata (written when he was roughly Tyson's age), Janáček's very late Violin Sonata (his only essay in this form), and a huge Polonaise brillante (No. 2, in A, Op. 21) by Wieniawski. Stop just a minute and think about that, please. The Stravinsky's known because the music came from Pulcinella, the ballet based on music by Pergolesi and others, but when was the last time you heard the other works? And will we ever be fortunate enough to hear them played like this again?
One of the wonders of youth is that young people do things that cooler (read: older) heads wouldn't dream of attempting, given their difficulty (or danger, in some cases…). In these cases, the risk might have been failure, but failure is something clearly unknown to these artists. Instead, they delivered this daunting program of rare and unusual works with calm and collected polish, with often staggering technical aplomb (but, except for the last number, never with a hint of virtuosity purely for virtuosity's sake), and with truly astounding intellectual command of the varied styles and emotional content of the scores. In all candor, I don't think I've ever heard a program quite like this one. This recital, delivered virtually without blemish, was truly a wonder - as watching these young artists grow up, over the years, has been. Here's hoping they continue to come home from time to time, to show us what they're up to - and to remind us that the highest art need not be imported.
Now if only we could get those little foxes to take up fiddles….