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Who said you couldn't create a fine symphony orchestra ex nihilo? Here, with manifold liberties, is a version of how it happened: Someone observed as to how good it would be to have an orchestra for the benefit of rookie soloists, performers, directors and even composers. So Appalachian State students Mitchell Franklin and Michael Grimes, along with Robert Garbarz from UNC-Chapel Hill, gathered student musicians from local high and middle schools and colleges from all over, totaling some forty strong in this, their second year. Thus was born the Raleigh Festival Orchestra, a dedicated group all set on this evening for their "sophomore" production at Millbrook High School.
The aforementioned Grimes, horn player, authoritatively conducted the opening "Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare," a brief rouser by Richard Strauss showing the horns and brass to good effect. Grimes remained on the podium as the players did a creditable job on the "Coriolan" Overture of Beethoven.
(Although the quite fine program notes identified the players with their respective schools, and told at length of the featured soloist, they were silent on the conductors, founders and emcees. Nor were these participants orally identified during the proceedings. But for the kind help of a knowledgeable parent/backer, such worthies would have had to remain anonymous.)
The final Allegro moderato movement of Dvořák's great Cello Concerto was the vehicle chosen by soloist Alexander Ullman of UNC-Chapel Hill, winner of the 2013 Concerto Competition. Led by Garbarz, the players mounted a game and mostly satisfying effort on this masterpiece. Ullman was especially effective in the challenging highs, and he demonstrated the requisite sensitivity and skill of phrasing on the well-known and heartfelt recurring theme.
Garbarz stayed on after intermission to lead the leaned down forces in the Mozart Symphony No. 1, K.16, maintaining period authenticity as first violinist/conductor. The fast movements here showed the players in their best light.
For his skills at orchestration, featured composer Joseph D. House should receive superior grades from his composition instructors at Appalachian State. In keeping with the "No. 1" theme of the program, he conducted his own Symphony No. 1, subtitled "Fable." This high-quality and promising piece, perhaps better characterized as a tone poem, takes the listener through "fabulous" twists and turns, running the spectrum from the raucous to the sublime. The work of twenty-five or so minutes starts with (what else?) "A Beginning," in which all the winds and percussion tell the story. Next, the cellos and all strings take over as "The Plot Thickens." The other two movements, "A Reprise" and "Resolution," carry on the tale with various unpredictable special effects. The sizable audience rewarded the composer/conductor with rousing and well-merited praise.
So let's hear it for these intrepid young musicians, and for their sponsors, backers and countless well-wishers. And not least, for all those demonstrating their support by stuffing the huge donation jar as they departed.