Symphony Director Conducts Workshop at Pinecrest
Nicole Peragine simply wanted to meet Grant Llewellyn backstage and introduce herself.
She is the Pinecrest High School orchestra director and had hoped to engage the music director of the N.C. Symphony in some musical conversation after a concert in Southern Pines back in late 2009. What started out as a discussion about encouraging teenagers to attend orchestra concerts ended with the maestro graciously offering to work personally with Peragine's students at the school.
On Thursday, Feb. 18, the offer became reality, as Llewellyn, an internationally renowned conductor, held a workshop at the school's Lee Auditorium with about 40 members of the Pinecrest Orchestra.
For more than two hours, the leader of one of the region's most prestigious orchestras talked, discussed, informed and interacted with the students as they worked their way through some of their repertoire.
Llewellyn is known not only for his artistic integrity, but also for his charismatic personality, and both were in full evidence as he spent the afternoon leading the ensemble through "Folk Tune" by Fletcher and "Nimrod" by Elgar.
At one point after making some recommendations to the second violins, he turned to symphony staff members sitting in the auditorium and asked if the sound was more balanced or not, and he later borrowed one of the young cellist's instruments to help her find the right fingering for a particularly tricky passage.
If the high schoolers were a bit tight or nervous in the beginning, they soon loosened up, and their sound began to blossom under the baton of their new mentor. Halfway through the workshop they were already sounding fuller, and more musical. On stage, Llewellyn was talking calmly but passionately about a musical phrase, arms waving gracefully as the students focused their attention on him.
The symphony's artistic director, Scott Freck, was in attendance, and when asked if he and Llewellyn would be at a scheduled meeting in Pinehurst later that afternoon, he replied, "If I can get him out of here - he is really in his element."
Principal Joel County stopped by to listen, and commented that having someone of Llewellyn's stature giving such personal attention to the students was "just great!"
After the workshop, each of the students was invited to attend that evening's symphony performance at Pinecrest. Complimentary tickets were provided, and many of the students, some with their parents in tow, arrived for the event.
The soloist for the evening was Lynn Harrell, perhaps one of a handful of cellists who would be considered among the best in the world. As a further bonus, Llewellyn invited each of the students to come backstage and meet Lynn Harrell at intermission. Harrell seemed to take an honest interest in the young musicians, chatting with them and shaking each of their hands.
When asked how much practice was involved in preparing a piece such as the "Shostakovich Cello Concerto," which Harrell had just played, he commented that in high school he had worked his way up to practicing four or five hours a day.
"The students now have a new perspective on practice, after hearing Lynn Harrell play and realizing that their practice regimen is sometimes less per week than what this professional does each day," said Peragine.
Peragine, who recently completed her graduate degree in viola performance at UNC Greensboro, pointed out that students in Moore County start playing string instruments in the fourth grade, giving the program an advantage over many other school systems that start in sixth grade.
Following the concert, Llewellyn commented that as a former string player, he felt it very important to do what he could to help string players in public schools. He noted that bands in a typical high school, composed of brass, wind and percussion instruments, are often involved in high profile settings, such as competitions, sports events, parades, etc., in addition to their own concerts, whereas the string players generally do not receive quite as much attention.
He said that the Pinecrest orchestra had done a very good job at the workshop, that they had worked hard and that they seemed to enjoy the atmosphere.
"Grant truly gave our program a special gift, and we hope to continue our newly forged rela tionship with him and the North Carolina Symphony," said Peragine.
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