A Triple Play from the Philharmonic Association
by John W. Lambert
November 23 & 25, 2008, Raleigh, NC: Not for the first time, and surely not for the last, the Philharmonic Association, the umbrella organization that sponsors the Triangle's leading youth orchestras (and more), offered three programs by its three primary component groups in the span of just three days, conveniently positioned just before the Thanksgiving holiday and break. Since the youth orchestras are allied with the NC Symphony, the concerts are presented in our state orchestra's home venue, Meymandi Concert Hall. These are all bigger "bands" than the NCS itself (as we've said before), and it's always a treat to hear large orchestras in this acoustically-appealing room. But even more important is the high quality of playing of some high-quality music by all those talented, skilled, and dedicated young people, in whom our hopes for the future of the art of music in our community and beyond rest. We owe them every encouragement, and we owe their mentors – the conductors and teachers and coaches who guide them – our thanks and support, too.
The first program, given on the afternoon of November 23, featured soloist Nathan Heath and the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, the nominal "senior" ensemble, under the baton of PA Artistic Director Hugh Partridge, formerly principal viola of the NCS. The PA got some money from the National Endowment this year, and it's been using it for an extended long look at Don Quixote, the upshot of which is that the intellectual stimulation of the Nasher's Spanish exhibition and other sundry offerings here and there will continue all season. The focus this time was a lovely little suite by Georg Philipp Telemann on the subject of the Cervantes book and its characters. Now Telemann has come in for some bad press, over the years – some of us tend to avoid concerts that include his music like the proverbial plague. But this suite, unearthed in a dusty old library (well, the one at UNC, really...) by Maestro Partridge, is a winner and a keeper, too. It's for strings, of which the TYP has a gracious plenty, and the group's incisive and polished traversal of the little overture, several portraits of Don Q – "Awakening" and "At Rest" – depictions of incidents in his life – the "Attack on the Windmills" and "Sighs of Love for Princess Aline" – and two devoted to his side-kick – "Sancho Panza Swindled" and "The Gallop of Sancho's Mule*" – are vivid and dramatic and far more effective than lots of Telemann that's served as obligatory 17th-century introductions to otherwise more interesting recital programs.... The work was warmly received, as well it should have been.
So, too, was Heath's polished solo performance in the first movement of Sibelius' Violin Concerto, one of the most challenging in the repertory. The TYP's concertmaster won this appearance with his victory in a recent concerto competition. He was ably supported by his colleagues and the conductor, who knows a thing or two about balancing sound involving strings.
The second half of the program began with some short but attractive arrangements ("transcriptions" may be a more operative word) by Triangle Youth Symphony Associate Conductor Marta Findlay-Partridge of five of the six character portraits from the aforementioned suite (omitting only the "Windmills" section) for percussion, winds, brass, horns, and piccolo with percussion, respectively. This gave the non-string players something to do to balance all the attention the string folks had at the outset, and they all acquitted themselves handsomely in these excerpts that were, basically, chamber ensemble presentations, given without a stick-waver in sight.
The program ended with a generally pleasing performance of the Second Suite (the familiar one) from Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé. The musicians had been coached in this music by James Gaffigan, during his visit here for concerts with the NCS just last month, and there was some evidence of a Gallic accent every now and then. This is not easy music, but the overall impression was of rock-solid competence in the execution, including close attention to attacks, phrasing, phrase ends, dynamics, and intonation.
*The mule's name is Dapple.
The turnout for the second and third programs, given in the same venue on November 25, was nearly as good as for the TYP, but of course the sum total of the personnel of the Triangle Youth Orchestra and the Triangle Youth Symphony exceeds the TYP total by a considerable margin.
The young musicians of the TYO had been waiting onstage for some time when, at 7:00 p.m., conductor Tim Kohring began the program. The sounds he elicited from the players were breathtaking, given their age and relative newness to the business of ensemble playing. The program consisted of a stirring hymn tune by Matthias Keller, "Shalom Chaverim" ("Peace friends till we meet again"), an Israeli folksong, two movements from that Don Quixote Suite, again arranged by Findlay-Partridge, and a "Russian Choral and Overture" based (appropriately, perhaps) on Tchaikovsky's Album for the Young and folk tunes. All of these were heard in simplified arrangements, but no matter – this was good music and the performances were appealing. Yep, the future is here, now, and in good hands!
(In the interests of full disclosure, I've known Maestro Kohring since he was a student...; he is a son of CVNC's Manager, Carolyn Kohring. But I should also mention that the co-leader, as it were, of the TYO – formally, its String Specialist – is Connie Lorber, and I've known and admired her work – and her parents – for years, too. And please note that Lorber is, like Hugh Partridge, a violist. That must mean something, I am thinking.)
The second half of the November 25 program was performed by the Triangle Youth Symphony, nominally the "middle" group (although we have heard them out-play the big group from time to time, over the years). In this orchestra, leadership is shared by Tony Robinson and Marta Findlay-Partridge. He conducted the second and the last numbers, and she took the first, third and fourth sections.
First up was a bit of the ubiquitous Don Q. music, but it really wasn't the same. The Suite that looms so large in the programs this season is separated by a score of years from an opera by Telemann called Don Quixote at the Wedding of Camacho, and it is from that work that Findlay-Partridge extracted a march that she souped up for the curtain-raiser here. The mass and weight of the sound cannot have been what Telemann had in mind, but it was a fun ride in the same sort of way that hearing Handel as filtered through Hamilton Harty is.
Her other leadership contributions included the Prelude to Act III of Wagner's Lohengrin (that's the fast, lively prelude) and a notably fine rendition of the "Bridal Chorus," sung – in German, no less! – by 40 members of the Cary High School Concert Chorus, Edward Yasick, director. There were over twice as many women as men, but the balance was good and the singers' projection was outstanding.
A reading of the "Wedding March" from Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream was the last of Findlay-Partridge's contributions to the festivities. It really was a treat to hear these famous wedding tunes played so well, back to back.
Robinson led three movements from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in the first part of the concert and brought the evening (and the term) to a close with Smetana's "The Moldau," from the large cycle of tone poems known as My Country. The ballet got off to a somewhat shaky, tentative start, but everyone soon rallied. "The Moldau" was a tad deliberate but the playing was often radiant and always crystal-clear. No one who counts noses of high-school seniors in TYP need worry about the PA for next season – there are plenty of qualified replacements standing in the wings!
Note: I have been reminded by an editor that Don Q is also a famous brand of rum. Let the record show that this column is not an endorsement of drinking – or of tilting at windmills.