In Praise of Amateurs and Volunteers as Season Launchers

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There was a time in the cultural life of Raleigh, in the not-too-distant past, when big arts organizations and presenters launched the season, set the standards, and made the grand splashes.

No more!

The demise of Pops in the Park marked the concurrent end of big season kickoffs for the community at large, a fact that was slow but sure in coming.

The resulting cultural sea-change has never been more evident than on Friday, August 28, at Ruggero Piano, where for over a decade a free series of monthly concerts called Fourth Friday Mix has drawn many of our best local artists and increasingly large and enthusiastic crowds. The place was nearly full for a generous and richly varied program, presented before congenial and supportive music lovers over a week before Labor Day.

This isn’t a review but instead a hymn of praise for amateur musicians and volunteers, the folks who sustain our local arts scene.

As always, the performers gave of their time and talents, with (also as usual) no one person having to do too much. Eric Hale, the series’ long-time host, and pianist Sue Timmons, got things underway with Gershwin’s “Blah, blah, blah.” Laura Yoo performed three exceptional and rarely-heard Bellini songs. Young Victoria Fusco played the first movement of Mozart’s “Turkish” Concerto, with June Burbage holding down the orchestral part(s). Richard Reid essayed Granados’ “Los Requiebros” (hints of which were to be heard later in the Spanish master’s opera, Goyescas). Mary Page and Kevin O’Barr brought a major change of pace with film (or cabaret) music by Billy Strayhorn, Mancini, and Richard Adler, the first and last of whom were Tar Heels. And for the grand finale, Gautam Nagaraj, introduced as a “math and physics geek from NCSU,” performed Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Sonata.

Generous, varied, appealing, and all played on or supported by one of those great “Wicked Villager” pianos (Bōsendorfer) featured by the Ruggeros!

And none of this would have happened without amateurs and volunteers.

The season has begun. To borrow a phrase, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

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