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Several commentators noted last year that if the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis had given the vaunted Minnesota Orchestra less than 5% of the money they gave to build a new NFL stadium for the Vikings, the orchestra's labor woes would have been over.
Now imagine that even 1% of that $498 million were given to support community music organizations.
The Chapel Hill Philharmonia recently proved that community music making still flourishes, with a budget much less than $4.98 million. The musicians play for free, their concerts are free, and they operate solely on donated funds and grants; this concert's program contained their first effort at procuring advertisements in a program, and it has been done rather tastefully. But despite all of this finance talk, the musicians of the orchestra presented a well-played and enjoyable concert.
Under the direction of Donald L. Oehler, professor of music at the University of North Carolina, the Philharmonia presented a program of "musical travels" – works by composers written under the influence of foreign lands. The detailed program notes, written by concertmaster Mark Furth, would be worth an admission price; Furth carefully described the historical context of each composer and his work, illuminating for both the layperson and the aficionado.
I have heard several community-based orchestras play before, and the Chapel Hill Philharmonia is a step above many others. I do not know if that is because Chapel Hill is fecund with musical talent or because Oehler knows how to coax a confident sound from his musicians, but the music on this occasion was engaging. The orchestra's winds offered a clean tone that shone particularly brightly in the works by Mendelssohn and Ravel; the strings, though perhaps a bit liquid in their unison fast notes, gave a rich sound, a product partially of their large numbers (including the largest viola section I've ever seen –a dozen violas!).
Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, No. 4, opened with the brilliance of the Amalfi Coast and progressed through Mendelssohn's impressions of the country, which he visited on his "grand tour" of Europe. The orchestra members proved their subtlety in the ending of the staid second movement, and the solo clarinet was particularly beautiful in the third (minuet) movement. A delicate winding-down concluded the work, and the audience, full of parents, spouses, friends, and music lovers, clearly loved the music.
Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte and Gershwin's An American in Paris made up the second half. Ravel's vivid orchestration and quaint melodies always enchant listeners, and the delay of the first violin melody in the Pavane always satisfies the thirst for sonorous playing. The opening melody, played low in the violins and high in the horns, is a sort of inversion of the usual order of orchestration, but the Philharmonia was up to the task. Gershwin's programmatic tone poem featured a large percussion battery, and his mastery of melody was evident in the orchestra's performance. They offered nice dynamic hairpins in the middle section of the piece, enunciating all of Gershwin's phrases with delight.
When I visited Germany at age seventeen, I was struck by the level of musical involvement of nearly every citizen I met; everyone, it seemed, sang in a choir, or played in a town band, or attended the town orchestra concerts. Such engagement at the community level increases awareness at the national level of the importance of the arts. A robust local music scene is a necessary relief for a rich professional music scene, and the Chapel Hill Philharmonia certainly presents that robustness.
See our calendar for information about future CHP concerts.