Friday, July 31, 2009


The string ensemble entitled I Solisti di Brevard has a name 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. Every year since Brevard Music Center initiated I Solisti di Brevard in 2004, I get excited thinking about their annual concert, which always comes towards the end of the seven-week festival. This year, the event will be on Monday, August 3 at the Porter Center of Brevard College.

The ensemble is made up of string players under eighteen years of age, and is a testimony to the quality of the younger players at Brevard. The creation of
I Solisti di Brevard was a part of Brevard Music Center’s added emphasis on chamber music and small ensembles. In 2004, Artistic Director David Effron was expanding chamber music activities as a third category, supplementing the existing orchestral and operatic endeavors. As in all activities at Brevard Music Center, the intent is to give young music students a taste of the professional life. The life of a modern serious musician often involves ensembles much smaller than the classic symphony orchestra or even the pit orchestra of an opera house. I Solisti di Brevard not only supplements their experience with larger ensembles, it has become an ensemble of prestige for young string players.

Each summer after three weeks at Brevard Music Center,
I Solisti di Brevard musicians are selected through an audition process. The result is a remarkably capable group of twenty to twenty-four players. The shape of a typical orchestra is 6 first violins, 5 second violins, 4 violas, 3 or 4 cellos, 2 double basses and a harpsichord. Each string section is less than half the size of the corresponding section of a symphony orchestra.

I Solisti di Brevard presents a concert of baroque and classical music with a focus on the period of the High German baroque. Past programs have included Alessandro Scarlatti, Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Heinrich Ignaz Biber and George Frederick Handel as well as Johann Sebastian Bach. One year the entire program was Bach.

The keyboardist is generally not chosen from the High School Division of the Brevard Music Center. In past years, members of the faculty and talented older BMC students provide that continuo. Various string and keyboard faculty have also soloed with the group, as have vocalists, although some solo parts have been handled by the young members themselves.

This chamber orchestra is made up of the very best string players of high school age who are at Brevard for the summer, and their verve and excitement are palpable. Generally, they are playing “standards” of the baroque repertoire, but they are meeting the works for the first time. You get a demonstration of how exciting great music is to a young mind. Seldom do you get such a fresh look at the works that stand as one of the milestones of Western music.

While large orchestral forces can compete with nature at the outdoor Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium, a chamber orchestra is heard better inside and in a more intimate hall. You will know where to find me on Monday: at the Porter Center cheering on
I Solisti di Brevard.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #444
July 31, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009


At the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium of the Brevard Music Center on Sunday evening, July 19, the finals of the Jan & Beattie Wood Concerto Competition were held. Each of twelve finalists performed a single movement of a concerto, accompanied by piano. These twelve had won out among 74 instrumental students who went through the preliminary judging. At the end of the evening a blue ribbon panel (Keith Lockhart, Bruce Murray and Ken Lam) selected five musicians who will perform their works again, this time with orchestra. The winners also receive a scholarship for next summer’s Brevard Music Center.

Asheville artist Robin Rector Krupp attended with me. Among her artistic talents is the ability to do quick sketches, and five of her illustrations accompany this report, showing some of the competitors in action.

The order in which the competitors performed was chosen by lot. First up was Chia-Jung Lee playing Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, one of the finest works in the recent flute repertoire. Rudy Chen then performed Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto #3, my personal favorite from the twentieth century. Midori Samson (a high school student) played Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto. Hedy Lee gave us Rachmaninoff’s lyrical Piano Concerto #2.

The fifth musician to take the stage was pianist Xiao Wang performing the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s monumental Piano Concerto #2. Robin Krupp’s sketch caught the posture, the power and the intensity of this pianist. Next, Alex Samawicz played the well-known Haydn Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra.

After a brief intermission, Brandon Garbot presented Camille Saint-Saëns’ virtuosic Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Following Garbot was David Hagee, performing the Thom Ritter George Concerto for Bass Trombone. High school age violinist Annie Bender chose the third movement of Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

We were into the home stretch with just three more musicians to hear from, and the audience had lost none of its enthusiasm. Claire Mashburn played Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ Poem for Flute and Orchestra. Yifei Deng gave us the William Walton Concerto for Viola and Orchestra. High schooler Joshua Paulus finished the evening with the Mozart Concerto #4 for French Horn and Orchestra.

Each year, this free concert provides an opportunity to hear some of the best instrumental students at the Brevard Music Center, and each year more BMC fans join the large number of students who attend. Very few left without waiting to hear the judges’ decision. And the winners were (in alphabetical order):

• Yifei Deng, viola
• Brandon Garbot, violin
• David Hagee, bass trombone
• Claire Mashburn, flute
• Xiao Wang, piano

My personal favorite among these was fifteen-year-old Brandon Garbot, who was also one of last year’s winners in the Jan & Beattie Wood Concerto Competition. He has been concertmaster of the Portland (OR) Youth Philharmonic Orchestra for the last three years, and during this summer’s Brevard Music Festival he studied with William Preucil, concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. He is an impressive young violinist that I expect we shall hear more from.

That said, I want to hear again the Thom Ritter George Concerto for Bass Trombone, an interesting work by the prolific but little-known American composer. That concerto was written early in his career when Dr. George studied at Eastman School of Music with Wayne Barlow and Bernard Rogers. It was about the time that ESM professor Emory Remington revolutionized orchestral trombone. Remington designed a large bore orchestral trombone and taught many of the mid-century’s finest orchestral trombone players. This concerto was surely influenced by the “trombone aura” surrounding Remington at Eastman, and should be heard more often.

Deng, Garbot, Hagee, Mashburn and Wang will perform their concerto movements with the BMC Orchestra under conductor Ken Lam in a concert (not free) that will begin at 7:30 pm on Friday, July 31. I look forward to hearing the five winners perform but will miss hearing the other seven. They were all very good. Think of it: they had one chance in five of passing the audition to come to Brevard in the first place, then one chance in six of beating out the competition to become a finalist. These are our “Soloists of Tomorrow,” as the concert has been dubbed.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
illustrations © 2009 Robin Rector Krupp
Arts Spectrum column #443
July 24, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009


Heredity has been known to play a role in musical ability. Think of the minor composer J. Michael Haydn who was the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn, or Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn. Among performers, think of Peter Serkin, the son of Rudolf Serkin, or the four Chicago-born siblings Timothy, Janet, Phillip and David Ying who for twenty years comprised the Ying Quartet, now the quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music. (Timothy Ying played his last concert with the quartet on April 26 of this year. The new first violinist is Frank Huang.)

In 1972, the Chilean violist Manuel Díaz moved his family to the United States where he began a long tenure with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. His family included two sons. In another example of talent abounding in one family, Roberto studied viola while Andrés studied the violoncello. They are now at the peak of successful careers as performers and educators, but once again took time out of their busy schedules to visit Brevard Music Festival. Andrés Díaz delivered a chamber music concert last Monday and Roberto Díaz followed suit on Wednesday. The Díaz brothers are always an inspiration for the Brevard Music Center students. During the summer of 2001, Andrés performed the world premiere of Gunther Schuller’s "Concerto for Cello and Orchestra" in Brevard, and for several summers the Music Center welcomed the Díaz String Trio, in which violinist Andrés Cárdenes joins Andrés and Roberto.

Andrés Díaz is Associate Professor of Music at Southern Methodist University. For fifteen years, he pursued an active solo career touring with the late collaborative pianist Samuel Sanders (who was also the favorite pianist of cellists Leonard Rose, Yo-Yo Ma, Lynn Harrell, Jacqueline du Pre and Mstislav Rostropovich). He collaborated with BMC faculty for two works on Monday, July 13, but the feature of his chamber concert at the Porter Center was Zoltán Kodály’s “Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello (Op. 8).” A János Starker recording of this work has been in my collection for 56 years (first an LP bought in 1953, then a CD of a 1970 performance). The work is unfamiliar to many, not surprising since it is so difficult and seldom performed. The cello strings are “detuned” to A, D, F# and B, allowing the open strings to provide a “drone” in this 1915 composition, which is modal, quotes Hungarian folk tunes and incorporates astonishing double stopping.

Roberto Díaz is now President of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he joined the faculty in 2000. He was principal viola of the National Symphony under Mstislav Rostropovich, and previously played in the Boston Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. For the first half of his Brevard Music Center appearance this year, he was accompanied by a talented young Curtis School piano student, Andrew Tyson, who showed great sensitivity in de Falla and Brahms selections. Following intermission, Roberto became second viola to Mary Persin when he joined the Biava String Quartet to play Mozart’s "String Quintet in G minor, K. 516."

Before intermission, Díaz and Tyson departed from the printed program to play a short piece in memory of “the patron saint of Brevard,” Linda Candler. The work was a transcription of a song Beau Soir by Claude Debussy, which exhorts one to enjoy life “For we are going on, as this stream goes on: The stream to the sea, we to the grave.” A most appropriate sentiment.

Roberto Díaz was playing the same Amati viola that was used for the concert career of famed violist William Primrose. Primrose was a teacher of Manuel Díaz, who in turn was Roberto Díaz’ first viola instructor. It is all in the family, indeed.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #442
July 17, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009


The Episcopal Parish of the Holy Communion in North Carolina’s “High Country” has an interesting parish history that I will leave you to read elsewhere. I will discuss only the Ben Long frescoes that have caused this parish’s two tiny church buildings - Holy Trinity (Glendale Springs) and St. Mary’s (West Jefferson) – to become known as the “Churches of the Frescoes.”

Benjamin F. Long IV was born in Texas, but grew up in Statesville, NC. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill who later studied at the Art Students League in New York City. Somewhat later, he moved to Florence, Italy to apprentice himself to Pietro Annigoni, following in the footsteps of his grandfather McKendree Robbins Long (1888-1976), who also attended the Art Students League and then studied academic painting in Europe.

Ben Long’s career took an unexpected twist when he met Pietro Annigoni. The Italian painter in oils had shifted his attention to the ancient medium of fresco. Long worked with Annigoni for almost eight years, learning fresco painting and practicing oil painting on his own. Following his apprenticeship, he worked in Europe for a while. In 1980, he relocated to Asheville, NC and since then has divided his time between Europe and America.

I have not had the privilege of seeing Long’s European frescoes, but his North Carolina works show keen artistic insight as well as technical mastery. To date, close to twenty frescoes have been completed in our state, in Charlotte, Morganton, Crossnore, Wilkesboro, Statesville and Montreat. But his first four North Carolina frescoes, now steeped in thirty years of aging, are perhaps the most impressive.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I revisited the three frescoes in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and “The Last Supper” at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. This visit reinforced my previous belief that these are world-class art, combining a modern sensibility with an ancient satisfying medium.

"Mary Great With Child” is on a panel to the left of the altar in St. Mary’s. The model was a local young woman who is portrayed above a very low horizon, with the moon eclipsing the sun above her head, the feminine blocking out the masculine. “John the Baptist” is on a panel to the right of the altar. Again the horizon is low, and the dove (the Holy Spirit) appears above his head. A bumblebee that annoyed the young artist (then in his twenties) and his assistants is immortalized in the lower right corner.

“The Mystery of Faith” was created directly on the wall behind the St. Mary’s altar. The crucified Christ is depicted in realism while the risen Christ is shown in an aethereal fashion that defies classification. (The figure has dreadlocks and is of uncertain racial origin.) The third part of the mystery, that “Christ will come again,” is indicated through mysterious symbolism (apparent upon close inspection only) that hints at our lack of understanding of the exact meaning of the liturgy.

Over at Holy Trinity, Long clearly did not feel intimidated by the fact that Michelangelo had created a “Last Supper.” The recorded narrative that the church provides as interpretation of the painting adds a richness to the characterization of each of the disciples (for whom local people modeled). The other details, spilling out of the corners of the painting, are provocative. And the eyes of St. Thomas (on the far right end of the table) follow you wherever you go, doubting your faith and your fidelity. This is a modern narrative painting of the first order.

Personally, I prefer St. Mary’s for its total artistic effect. With light from side windows that are clear glass and a branch-like leading, the altar area is an aesthetically appealing space, complemented by the art in the remainder of the church. But take the trip for yourself and make up your own mind.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #441
July 10, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009


Lovers of classical music in Western North Carolina take a deep breath when late June arrives. Each year, the Brevard Music Center Institute and Festival presents a tightly compressed seven-week extravaganza of music. Throughout its 73-year history, the organization has been dedicated to providing young musicians with a superior educational experience through exposure to top-notch teachers and an introduction to the hectic life of a professional musician.

BMC’s continuity of purpose has been aided by the continuity of its direction. BMC has had only four Artistic Directors. James Christian Pfohl began the enterprise in Charlotte in 1936, and then in 1945 moved it to Brevard where it was renamed the Brevard Music Center. Henry Janiec of Converse College succeeded Pfohl in 1964, and in 33 years as director developed an outstanding regional summer teaching institute with a particularly strong operatic program. David Effron of Indiana University was Artistic Director from 1997 to 2007, during which time BMC further strengthened its orchestral program, drew more students from across the nation and internationally, and began a new chamber music program alongside the orchestral and operatic programs. Beginning last season Keith Lockhart, the noted conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Utah Symphony, has taken over the direction.

Evidence of the growing status of BMC can be found in two statistical measures. Only one student out of each five applicants was accepted this year. The accepted students came from forty-one states and ten foreign countries. The 245 students in the college division and the 176 students in the high school division are truly an exceptional group of young musicians.

This is the tenth consecutive year that I have attended the opening orchestral concert of the Brevard Music Center’s seven-week season. Each year, I am amazed at how quickly the Brevard Music Center Orchestra develops a sense of tight ensemble, and June 26 of this year was no exception. Two-thirds of the BMC Orchestra are college division students, the other one-third are faculty. For people not used to performing together as an ensemble, these musicians from all over rise to high standards in an extremely short time. Their quality is a tribute to the conservatories and universities, and especially to these individual students, their drive and dedication.

Violinists of the Transylvania Symphony Orchestra
rehearsing at the Brevard Music Center

The seven weeks are jam-packed with concerts. In addition to the BMC Orchestra, concerts will feature all-student ensembles: the Brevard Sinfonia (college age), the Transylvania Symphony Orchestra (high school), the Transylvania Symphonic Band (high school wind and percussion) and
I Solisti di Brevard (high school string players). The season contains seventeen ticketed concerts at the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium (an outdoor venue with permanent seating under a roof) and eleven chamber music concerts at the acoustically fine Porter Center of Brevard College. In addition, the beautiful 180-acre campus is home to numerous free events.

The string ensemble entitled
I Solisti di Brevard has a name modeled after the famous Italian chamber orchestra I Solisti Veneti, founded in Padua in 1959 by Claudio Scimone and famed for its performance of Italian and other baroque music. The players are chosen after the first few weeks, and their concert (this year scheduled at the Porter Center on Monday, August 3) is one that I always look forward to. These young people play with obvious joy, and their zest makes the performance doubly enjoyable.

While the public performances are subordinate to Brevard Music Center’s educational mission, BMC provides some of the finest musical performances of the entire year in Western North Carolina. Even if the season did not include outstanding conductors (Lockhart, Effron and Janiec) and famous guest artists (William Preucil, Andrés Diaz, Roberto Diaz and Olga Kern), these concerts, or at least some of them, should be on your “must attend” list. The website is

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #440
July 3, 2009