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The Brevard Music Center's mission is "to teach gifted young musicians to prepare and perform great musical works at a high artistic level." The public performances are simply a happy byproduct of the educational activities. During David Effron's tenure as Music Director, the chamber music activities of the Center were enhanced to become a third "collaborative music" concentration of the Center, supplementing the programs in opera and orchestra that had been initiated under Music Director Emeritus Henry Janiec.
In 2004, Effron created I Solisti di Brevard, modeled after the Italian chamber orchestra I Solisti Veneti, founded in Padua in 1959 by Claudio Scimone and famed for its performance of baroque music. I Solisti di Brevard employs the very best string players of high school age who are at Brevard for the summer. This chamber orchestra performed Monday night in the Porter Center at Brevard College. The program began with George Frederic Handel's Concerto Grosso VII, performed by fourteen string players. It was a good performance but not outstanding.
I Solisti di Brevard rose to its full ability in the next work, Wassenaer's Concerto Armonico No. 4. In 1980, a Dutch musicologist discovered proof that Count Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer was the composer of the six Concerti Armonica, which had been misattributed for centuries to Italian composers (first Ricciotti, then Pergolesi). This Dutch composition can hold its own alongside much of Telemann's Taffelmusik and other works of the High German Baroque era. The second movement, "Da capella, non presto," is outstanding. Eyes were glued on the concertmaster at each transition between the movements (the usual baroque slow-fast-slow-fast). Principal players Jacob Schafer, violin, Arian Shaw, viola, and Matthew Liversedge, cello, shone in solo and trio passages in the Largo. All the players appeared to have mastered the work's concept. It was a high point of the evening.
Johann Altenburg was a virtuoso trumpeter at the Weissenfels court, renowned for his high clarino playing on the baroque trumpet. (Complete scales were possible only in the high octaves using overtones on the valveless trumpet.) Two trumpet faculty members (Mark Hughes and Mark Schubert) joined five trumpet students and a student timpanist in a performance of Altenburg's Concerto for Seven Trumpets and Timpani. All seven trumpeters were at ease in the work, which in the modern era is performed on a combination of piccolo trumpets and standard trumpets. Positioning the trumpets in two groups further apart on the stage might have better emphasized the many antiphonal passages between groups of three and four trumpets.
Vivaldi's Piccolo Concerto in C Major featured faculty member Dilshad Posnock as soloist. She seemed to have an uneven resonance on one note in the high-register early in the Allegro, but this was quickly brought under control. She demonstrated gorgeous tone in the middle slow movement and agility in the outer movements.
For selections from four J.S. Bach cantatas, I Solisti di Brevard added wind players, harpsichord continuo, and was joined by the I Solisti di Brevard Chorus. This is a chamber choir composed of 37 piano and composition students. Students whose other Brevard activities are solitary thus gain ensemble experience. I was impressed with the timbre of this choir, which sounded richer and more mature than most choirs composed of young voices. The high level of musicianship of these young people in other facets of their musical life seems to have transferred into their vocal performance. Four of Brevard Music Center's opera students sang the two duet passages. Faculty member Ken Lam conducted with his usual skill.
I Solisti di Brevard was prepared by cello faculty member Felix Wang but (except in the Bach) performed in the baroque tradition under the leadership of their concertmaster. Even the high schoolers at Brevard Music Center these days are from distant places. The twenty-three young instrumentalists come from fourteen states – none of them North Carolina – and two foreign countries, a further sign that the Center now has international renown as a summer teaching festival. I enjoyed hearing these young people playing "standards" of the baroque repertoire but in many cases meeting them for the first time with verve and excitement.