Colors and emotion will fill the air as sound waves move among those in the Dixon Auditorium Sunday afternoon when the student musicians with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Symphony Orchestra come to town to perform, including an Elkin High School graduate.
The conductor of the orchestra, Christopher Lees, and the production manager, Ken Wilmot, visited Elkin Tuesday to talk to some students at the elementary and high schools and get a feel for the stage space they will be utilizing for the free concert.
Elkin Board of Education Chairman Dr. Richard Brinegar joined the UNCSA duo in their tour with Cynthia Altemueller, chief instructional officer for the school system. Brinegar’s connection to the School of the Arts is what is making this concert possible, since his son Josh plays bassoon in the orchestra.
Last year, the orchestra received a grant to take their music on tour, visiting Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Brevard and Wake Forest University’s Wait Chapel, where Dr. Brinegar watched the performance.
“We saw it at Wait Chapel, and Josh told us about the grant that made it possible. Our town is so full of arts and crafts, with the Reeves Theatre and the Foothills Arts Council, the pumpkin festival, it’s part of the community,” Brinegar said.
“That kind of commitment is unique and powerful. It sounded like a wonderful next stop in our touring life for the school,” said Lees of Elkin. “We have Josh Brinegar who is availing himself beautifully, and to be able to connect with the communities that support our artists before they come to us.”
A pre-concert 30-minute meet and greet with Lees is being held at 1 p.m. in the auditorium so area children can stop by and meet the conductor and ask him questions. Then the musicians will arrive for a closed warm-up, and the concert will begin at 3 p.m.
The event is free, but a donation box will be set up for anyone wanting to contribute toward the replacement of the percussion instruments for Elkin City Schools’ music department.
“What one learns from playing in an orchestra is indescribable,” said Lees, sharing attributes of being involved from integrity, focused practice mindset, team work, and a drive to practice to get better.
Altemueller connected Lees’ comments with the 4 C’s the school system focuses on — critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication.
“What I’m excited about for Sunday is there will be all ages present, many who may never have been exposed to an orchestra,” said Wilmot. “And there is hearing and feeling involved. Those little kids feel that thump in their heart and it sparks an interest.”
“When the string vibrates, it has to go somewhere, and it has the possibility to make a real viseral impact,” said Lees. “If just one student is inspired, then our job is a success.”
As far as the works in the performance, Lees said, the audience “is going to experience fireworks, a palpable story, the emotion of a culmination of years of study that couldn’t possibly leave them unchanged.”
Lees added the 110-musician orchestra includes students from the school’s 15-year-old high-schoolers up through college and graduate students.
“The program starts rather beautifully with a solo pianist playing Brahms’ Intermezzo Opus 118 No. 2,” Lees said, noting that is the black and white colors of the show. Then the entire orchestra will play the orchestrated version of the same piece, called “Black Swan,” which he said will be an explosion of colors.
The performance will then feature Ravel’s G Major Concerto by student Owen Dodds, which Lees said is “full of virtuosity” and “every note flies by at a fraction of a second.” Brinegar added that his son said the piece is like “jet fuel.”
The second half of the performance is a full symphony in both the performers and the piece of work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
“It is powerful brass, woodwind solors, very funny strings, and the last movement of the piece is overflowing joy with one distinct moment of terror,” said Lees, explaining that the composer lived a very different public life than his personal life, and the piece mimicks those differences. “I think about Facebook and Instagram where we pose for a photo where there is a performance element to it.”
The lobby of the Dixon Auditorium will feature information with a representative of the Winston-Salem Youth Symphony as well, and following the concert, while the performers are treated to a meal in the school’s cafeteria, local students will have an opportunity to mingle with them to learn more about their music or instruments and ask them questions and talk with them informally.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.