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Among his many duties and responsibilities, the Cantor of Leipzig was first and foremost a teacher. He was not looked upon with awe, as we might do, from our distant perspective, but as an ordinary member of the community somewhat on par with the butcher, the bootmaker, or the tinsmith. From all indications, he was a good teacher, expected much of his pupils and maintained a respectful and affectionate relationship with most of them. Most musicians worth a grain of salt today, 300 years later, consider Bach their most valued and highly regarded teacher. It is not really a stretch to consider him taking great delight and pride in the NC Bach Festival 2005 Youth Concert heard on the afternoon of January 9 at the Raleigh Moravian church.
The Higher Octaves Violin Choir* opened the program with a vigorous and expressive performance of the Preludio from Bach's Violin Partita No. 3, in E. This group of more than a dozen high schoolers (or younger artists) has been in existence for some time now under the capable guidance of Meredith Professor Wilinda Atchley. It is reminiscent of the kind of enthusiasm for music brought to our attention in the 2000 Merle Streep movie Music of the Heart. The Octaves returned later in the program for a sprightly performance of the "Little" Fugue in G minor and an absolutely winsome rendition of the familiar "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," from Cantata 147. Especially in this work, it was obvious that the music was played from the heart, and the audience responded warmly. This performance was worthy of any stage, anywhere.
One of the highlights of the program was soprano Emily Leonard's rendition of "Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile" by Francesco Durante, an Italian contemporary of J. S. Bach. In keeping with the title, Leonard's vocalizations danced gently and joyfully; it was very nice indeed. She returned with "How beautiful are the feet" from Handel's Messiah and closed the program with "I know that my redeemer liveth" from the same work. Leonard will move on with her training and has the promise of a fine career. Graduating from Apex High School this spring, she plans to attend Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, next fall. All who have fallen under the influence of her charming stage presence and crystalline voice wish her the very best.
At the age of 11, Ho Yoon Chung was the youngest soloist on the program. He launched into a vigorous performance of a selection from Vivaldi's Concerto in A Minor (F.I.N. 176). His accompanist, Grace Hyojin Kim, kept him in check when he tended to rush the tempo a bit. He will learn and will sharpen his skills with time. The older brother in this musical family, Ho Jun Chung, 15, appeared first with the Allegro moderato from Bach's Concerto No. 1 in A Minor. His playing was stylish and accomplished and reflected an impressive grasp of the inner meaning of the music. He later performed the challenging and difficult Allemande from the Partita No. 2 for unaccompanied violin.
Jessica Dixon, a graduate student at East Carolina University, played the Adagio and Allegro from the Sonata in E Minor, S.1034, for flute and harpsichord. Her playing was on the mark with clear and meaningful phrasing, a rich tone, and comfortable technique. Her accompanist was Justin Sturz, who is on the staff at ECU and is involved with music programs in two churches in Greenville. His solid and sensitive accompaniment was heard supporting several of the performances on the program.
The accomplished Grace Hyojin Kim played the English Suite No. 3 in G Minor on the spinet in the Moravian Church worship room. The Prelude and five dances of this Suite were a delight. Here, Bach was at his best as an artisan creator, and the young musician met the challenge as performer.
The concert was held together and flowed nicely through all the changing performing groups and soloists by the stage management of Laura Hartly, a sophomore at Apex High School.
These fine young people, some ambitious for performing careers, will have a lot to offer in the future. And those who choose not to pursue the daunting competition of performance will carry with them throughout their lives a sense of beauty, order and grace that will compound in value with each passing year. They deserve warm thanks for the concert and our best wishes in whatever quests they choose in the future.
*The members of the Higher Octaves Violin Choir are L.E. Alexander, Rachel Alsmeyer, Katherine Barton, David Cawn, Valerie Chiang, Stehanie Chien, Carter Coleman, Ann Maria Collins, Nick Johnson, Dianne Kim, Sue Jun Kwon, DaNece Lyman, Joshua McGee, Gregory Meckley, Naudereh Noori, Kristen Raley, Emerson Rhudy, Emmy Tinkham, Amber Wang and Susan Zhao.