You have read of and heard of the Philharmonic Association and its four component parts. If that is the extent of your experience, then you should leap at the first opportunity to hear any one of these groups. That is exactly what the enthusiastic audience did this afternoon in Meymandi Concert Hall. They heard the organization’s premiere ensemble, Triangle Youth Philharmonic, with the Association’s Artistic Director Hugh Partridge conducting three fine examples of the orchestrator’s art. (The other groups are Triangle Youth Orchestra, Triangle Youth Symphony, and Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble.)
Opening the program was Bernstein’s upbeat Overture to Candide (1956). Some of these passages showed the “low” strings in their best form.
The players’ quality came through earliest in the opening tutti section of the Introduction and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra (1809), by Rossini. The virtuosity and animated playing style of soloist Theo Chandler were a pleasure to behold and hear as he played the grueling and complex piece from memory. (This journal has published Partridge's fine program Preview in which he pointed out that the Rossini music would tend to bring on a smile.*) After the rather fluid introductory lines, each variation seemed to introduce some new difficulty. Chandler was “on stage” for so much of the time that one wondered whether he was able to catch a breath during the brief orchestral intervals. It is tempting to assert that the soloist was better than the music, as the piece almost degenerated into an endurance test to the point of tedium. Perhaps it was just someone in the audience who was suffering vicarious exhaustion, much like having observed an energetic pianist negotiate Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” sonata.
After intermission came the major offering of the afternoon, the Symphony No. 5 (1937) of Shostakovich, by some reckoning his greatest and most accessible work. From the distinctive start of the opening Moderato movement, the players and conductor were obviously in their comfort zone. While hearing them play the gorgeous slow movement, suppose you closed your eyes, briefly blocking out visual evidence of their tender years. The polish of these players was such that you might have imagined that their sound was quite similar to any number of “pro” groups from time gone by. Their rendition of the closing Allegro non troppo was particularly exciting, culminating in as compelling and urgent a finale as the literature affords.
Principal percussionist Matt Morrow was honored for a record ten years of service to the Philharmonic Association, starting as a third grader and having been a member of all four groups. Partridge reported that since fourth grade is now the earliest one can start, the record is unlikely ever to be equaled. It is young people like Morrow and Chandler and the rest of the players that profoundly brighten the outlook for quality music. (Please watch these pages for imminent reports on the “junior” colleagues of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic.)
*The passage by Hugh Partridge is: "Little is known about Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variation for Clarinet and Orchestra. There are some who think Rossini wrote the Theme and framework of the piece and that a clarinetist or a student of his furnished the variations. At any rate, the variations are devilishly difficult and the framework tuttis that glue it together are so Rossini-like as to bring a smile to your face. Our soloist, Theo Chandler, is more than up to the job. We are very grateful that he travels a long distance to be with us every week."