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The Thomas Auditorium of Blue Ridge Community College was nearly filled Sunday afternoon with parents, siblings and friends of the student musicians in the three ensembles that form the Hendersonville Symphony Youth Orchestras (HSYO). Two of the ensembles were heard before intermission, while the third delivered the second half of the concert. All of the conductor's bios can be found on their website.
First came the Prelude Ensemble, a string orchestra for beginners. (The minimum qualification is one year of instrumental lessons.) The Prelude Ensemble played four short instructional works geared to their lack of experience. The first two had a strong steady beat that helped keep them on track. Half the players then exited the stage, leaving a scant dozen players (four first violins, four second violins, three violas and a string bass) to perform Carol Nunez's "Little Symphony," which required more technique. The full twenty-four members returned to play Brian Balmages's "Burst." In this piece, conductor Andrea Dennis tried to produce some dynamic variation, but not all of the young players managed to produce a crescendo. The good news is that the best of these beginners now have some concept of an ensemble performance and will graduate in due course to the more advanced HSYO ensembles.
Emily Schaad conducts the twenty-member Sinfonietta, an intermediate string orchestra. She is an enthusiastic conductor who showed excellent rapport with her students. First up was an arrangement of the first movement of Symphony No. 29 (K. 201), written when Mozart was himself just eighteen years of age. Schaad said she was emphasizing to her students the importance of tonal color and intonation. She is wisely starting them on that journey of listening. To be successful orchestra players, they must learn to listen to themselves, to their section, and to the blend of the complete orchestra.
Following a brief intermission, the third ensemble, the HSYO Youth Symphony, took the stage. Roughly thirty in number, they include wind and percussion players. These mostly high schoolers performed three works from the classical and romantic repertoire.
Monica Garren, who won this year's HSYO concerto competition, performed the first movement of Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 26. The orchestra under the direction of Eric Scheider gave her a good accompaniment. This movement is structurally a prelude to the second movement, so it ends "not with a bang but a whimper." For a brief moment the audience wasn't sure that the piece was over, providing the only awkward moment of the performance. Garren was a confident soloist, and I expect that the next time we hear her will be with a conservatory orchestra or a professional orchestra.
Scheider announced that for the first time in the history of Henderson County, they would present the first staged high school operatic production with orchestra of a Mozart opera.The stage was reset for an abridged version of "Bastien und Bastienne," the one-act singspiel composed in 1768 by twelve-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (revised number K. 46b). Against a projected image of sylvan woods, three young vocalists (soprano Eden Pace, tenor Alex Harrelson and bass Marshall Peace) presented the comedy in an English translation, assisted by young Stella Peace who stole the show in the silent role of Dolly, the sheep. Silent, that is, except for one "baa." Her balletic portrayal of sheep was a delight. Mozart provided minimal orchestral interludes and some vocal work that was astounding considering his youth.
Emily Schaad conducted the final work of the day, the Finale movement of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17. This movement is marked "Moderato assai - Allegro vivo," and is grounded on the Ukrainian folk song "The Crane." Three folk songs were used in the symphony, leading it to be nicknamed the "Little Russian" symphony. Schaad provided a solid beat, appropriate to conducting young players, and the work was executed with assurance.
Henderson County now has a strong school string program, which was instigated and initially funded by the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra. While the majority of the funding now comes from the school system, the participation of the HSYO is important to the program's health. Considering the small population of the county, the HSYO is unexpectedly strong. A well-executed youth program is important to the health of the arts, and Henderson County is fortunate to have this resource.
– edited 5/17/16