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On an atypically warm Sunday afternoon the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra presented the second of two concerts (in three days) celebrating young artists. Both were given in Meredith College's Jones Auditorium, and both were conducted by music director Jim Waddelow. The first, reviewed earlier, was the orchestra's annual installment marking Meredith College's musical strengths, part of the cooperative agreement that gives the RSO a permanent home on the West Raleigh campus; the aria concert this year featured no singing but instead spotlighted a distinguished young clarinetist. (See the linked review for complete details.)
The Sunday matinee was the orchestra's annual "Rising Stars" program, this time featuring a single winner of the RSO's yearly concerto competition who, purely coincidentally, was also a clarinetist.
As usual, several musical works were repeated in both concerts. This time, the bookends were the first and last movements of Dvořák's "New World" Symphony, presented as a pair to open the program, and Leroy Anderson's "Fiddle Faddle," which, with special guests, closed the proceedings.
We no longer hear the Dvořák very often; the loss is ours. And this performance was a reminder of how wonderful the work can be when it is realized with skill and sensitivity. The orchestra – 71 players, including 50 strings – plays from strength under its current artistic leadership. Its string section has long been notable, but now the winds and brass are comparably excellent, and there is clearly, audibly, depth throughout. Waddelow made no concessions with regard to tempo because concessions are no longer needed. These were bracing readings of half of the great work, readings that made one regret that the entire piece was not performed. Among the delights were many felicitous interpretive touches that the players executed with evident ease. (Attendees who wish to hear the rest of the symphony – including the famous Largo – may choose to listen to a famous recording by the Czech Philharmonic as led by Václav Talich – an older performance that stands nicely alongside the RSO's achievements.)
Rose Kim, recently graduated from UNC-Greensboro, captured the prize in this year's concerto competition. Her complete professionalism belies her youth. In Mozart's famous Clarinet Concerto, she displayed astonishing artistry, interpretive skill, and technical wizardry. Waddelow demonstrated again his excellence as an accompanist, and the slightly reduced orchestra was with him at every precise step of the way. Here, too, the playing was at very high standards, making one wish the entire work had been heard. Bravo to Kim, and thanks to the late Benjamin K. Gibbs, whose generosity over the years made these special concerts possible.
Young people figured in the rest of the program, too, as over 20 players, billed as Carolinian Virtuosi, all products of the string studio of RSO concertmaster Xi Yang, took the stage in various configurations for music by Vivaldi, Yao Chuan Chen, and Anderson. The soloists in Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins, Jessica Zhong, Kevin Zhang, Kenny Zhang, and Jason Lee, arrayed across the lip of the stage, played their hearts out, dazzling the crowd and more than living up to that virtuosi billing of the ensemble's name.
The entire ensemble* participated next in an old pop tune from the period of China's Cultural Revolution, "Lady Flowers," as arranged for soloists and orchestra by Si Ang Chen. This gave the young artists lots of opportunity to play as a large group and in smaller ensembles. It and the concluding work, "Fiddle Faddle," were played from memory by these guests. At the end, one thing was clear – the future of the art we seek to serve is in secure hands!
And while on the subject, we've often sung the praises of our community orchestras, bands, choirs, and ensembles – organizations in which our artist-citizens get to perform for the pleasure of the community of which they are an integral part. This concert emphatically underscored the importance of these groups – and the RSO in particular.
*In addition to the aforementioned four players, the Carolinian Virtuosi consisted of Cindy Sun, Ethan Fan, Sam Fang, Jia Ying Li, Benjamin Wang, Anna Jin, Andy Chen, Eiha Patnaik, Sophie Liu, Sophia Dai, Grace Zhang, Amy Liu, Byron Qi, Ankita Das, Zoe Xu, and Cathy Sun, plus Aubrey Pratt, Irene Ma, Angie Liu, and Lilian Tang.
Note: In the interest of full disclosure, Jim Waddelow is one of CVNC's directors, and Xi Yang serves on the organization's advisory board.