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Symphony comes to Farthing

Article Published: Nov. 11, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

The North Carolina Symphony is more than brass and strings.

Just ask its acclaimed conductor, Grant Llewellyn.

He'll tell you it's about dedication.

"We don't just perform in an ivory tower back in Raleigh," he said. "That would be very easy."

Instead, the crew treks across the state to make the symphony accessible throughout North Carolina.

"The players really do have a zeal to take their music to the entire state and to all generations within the state," he said.

And they do that through workshops, like the ones they're having this week at Appalachian State University with college and Watauga County Schools students.

"We have a fantastic program of education concerts, which we proudly deliver to some 40 or 50 thousands of fourth- and fifth-graders each year," Llewellyn said.

The programs in Watauga County culminate in a concert Thursday, Nov. 11, at Farthing Auditorium, entitled "From Brahms to Bach and Back Again."

Think Brahms' Third Symphony through a "beautiful Bach concerto for violin and oboe," circling back to Brahms.

Music is more than a passion for Llewellyn. It's life for the Welsh-born conductor, whose symphonic credits include a fellow position at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts (with mentors like Leonard Bernstein), assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, musical director of the Handel and Haydn Society and associate conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Llewellyn studied piano from an early age before turning to cello in school.

"One thing led to another, and I found myself in a specialist music school," he said.

It was there that he started composing and soon won a conducting competition in Great Britain.

"There really is no easy path," Llewellyn said. "You've basically got to be somewhat opportunistic and just take what you can when it comes your way."

Shifting from performing to conducting was an easy decision.

"Playing in an orchestral cello section, I found myself as a student distracted and interested in what was going on in other sections," he said, "so, I suppose that interest, that fascination, led me looking to the orchestral score rather than the full parts ... I suppose there's a little megalomaniac in every conductor ... it's the freedom to program the music that you love."

And he has advice for Watauga students hoping for a career in the symphony.

"The motivation ultimately has to be the music," he said. "I think any student of music, any instrumentalist who is aspiring to undertake a career in music ... needs to know it's not just technical prowess ... I think the thing that sustains you through the highs and lows of a career in the arts is really a love for those arts, whether it be music or theater or dance or opera, I think you have to have an intrinsic love of the art form that you're presenting. There's a tremendous load of hard work involved. It's not a question of just sitting back and enjoying it."

The concert happens Thursday, Nov. 11, at 8 p.m. at Farthing Auditorium on the ASU campus. For tickets, call 1-800-841-2787.

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