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One of the rewards of being a music critic is chronicling the artistic growth tomorrow's musicians early in their careers. The winter concert of the Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra, given in Huggins Auditorium at Greensboro College on March 19, featured a familiar name and a new one. Ably directed by Music Director Bruce Kiesling, the program featured two of the winners of the ensemble's concerto competition.
Stefani Collins, the orchestra's concertmaster, won the Sam G. Wilson summer scholarship. She played the first movement of Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47. Two sisters, Catherine and Caroline Cox, tied for the Friends of Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra award. The younger sister, Caroline, soloed with "Czárdás," by Vittorio Monti (1868-1922), while Catherine was Acting Concertmaster for both concerto performances.
Monti's "Czárdás" opened the concert. Written in the late French Romantic style, much of the orchestra accompaniment is busy note spinning or repeated figures such as hushed pizzicato strings. There is an extended obbligato part for harp that Clarke Carriker played gorgeously. Solos for flute and clarinet were well played. Caroline Cox's intonation was flawless, whether she was playing slow or fast. With her violin held firmly under her chin, she bowed and fingered with confidence and phrased with a good feeling for the style. She is a student of Karen Collins, Stefani Collins' mother, a GSO violinist and the Youth Strings Music Director.
CVNC has recorded most of the high points of Stefani Collins' artistic growth since I first heard her in a 2003 Eastern Music Festival master class. She was also one of the festival's concerto winners. More recently, she was the first winner of the NCS-NCSA Competition in 2004. That led to her touring Dvorák's Violin Concerto with the NC Symphony. Her maturing musicianship was on display throughout her performance of the first movement of the great Sibelius Violin Concerto. Collins attacked the difficult solo part with élan; her fearless bowing and fingering yielded faultless intonation. Her sense of color was apt and refined. Her firm overall conception of the piece was deeply satisfying and well within the established interpretative tradition. Her warm tone easily filled the hall whether she played softly or really dug into the strings. It's too bad that the other two movements were not scheduled. Kiesling secured beautifully hushed orchestral strings during the opening. The important clarinet solo was well played. The whole string section maintained a high standard and the woodwinds and brass were often more than acceptable. Stefani Collins is a student of Sarah Johnson at the NC School of the Arts.
Greensboro composer Russell Peck's popular early piece, "Lift-Off!," was played by GSO coach Wiley Sykes and two students, Samuel Green from Durham and Brian Fidali. Each percussionist played three drums, and it was fascinating to hear and watch all the complex permutations of multiple rhythms and riffs. Each player often played two independent rhythms.
Aaron Copland's full orchestration of Appalachian Spring Suite received a much more uneven performance. Kiesling's conception was excellent and he gave everybody good cues, so maybe the rehearsals were rushed. All the string sections played well with generally fine ensemble, and individually, the woodwinds and brass were good or better, but when multiples from each section played together, intonation went downhill with sour spots all too evident. It was a good try and it left room for more growth. One player's problem may have been a really bad reed.