Monday, June 1, 2015

Music Is Enough for a Lifetime

… but a lifetime is never enough for music. – Sergei Rachmaninoff

I went to a concert yesterday. No, a real concert, where I heard a nearly seventy-piece orchestra perform Verdi and Bach and Barber and Sibelius. And play them well.
     What was unusual about this was that these musicians were all high school students, and I live in a small town. The Pocono Youth Orchestra has been in existence since 1987 and I regret that I haven’t made a point of attending more of their twice yearly concerts. And I have to admit the primary reason I went yesterday was because one of my voice students had been given the opportunity to perform a solo on the concert.
     There was a wonderful sense of decorum throughout the program. The orchestra was in standard concert dress. They entered the stage with the same respect and poise as every symphony orchestra I’ve ever heard, and that includes the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
     There was great respect for what they were doing, performing works that have been heard and loved world-wide for generations. There was also a passion for what they were doing and I believe a true appreciation for this incredible music. I was reminded how much music I have never heard, and how much I’m not familiar with ─ and I was privileged to attend a very fine music conservatory. And that was decades ago; I’ve been listening for a lot of years.
     I was very moved by this concert. Hearing the “Triumphal March and Ballet Music” from Verdi’s Aida touched me personally because I’m re-reading an excellent biography of the composer – Orpheus at Eighty by Vincent Sheean. Opera is my passion, and recent happenings in “opera world,” especially in Europe, have concerned me.
      Next on the program was a novelty: a percussion quintet playing “The Rhythm of Figaro.” A percussion-only arrangement of the overture to Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Clever and engaging, and expertly performed (and also, more opera!).
     This was followed by an arrangement by my violinist friend Christopher Souza of the first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 6. Two soloists were featured; the cellist, Sophia Rostock, I had known as a young child when she attended a Musical Theater Summer Workshop I co-directed for over twenty years. The viola soloist was Emily Geiger. These young women performed extremely well.

Pocono Youth Orchestra photo

     A violinist named Joseph Snyder (a student of Chris’s) played – beautifully – the first movement of Samuel Barber’s violin concerto. If anyone had ever asked me if Barber wrote a violin concerto I would no doubt have replied, “Probably.” It seemed highly likely, considering how skillfully he wrote for strings, but I had never heard this work, or even heard of it.
     My student Steven Visceglia, a tenor, performed a Schubert song, “Die böse Farbe” with piano. He sang beautifully, with sensitivity and confidence (he loves Schubert), and his accompanist was very skilled. Amy Zhang played a very difficult accompaniment extremely well.
     For fun the orchestra played selections from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera. I would guess this may well have been the favorite piece on the program for many of the young instrumentalists, and it was certainly a treat for the audience.
     Before the final selection, Jean Sibelius’ tone poem Finlandia, the twenty-two young men and women who are graduating from high school within the next weeks were acknowledged and presented with flowers. The years each one had been part of either the PYO or the “feeder” group, the Pocono Junior String Orchestra, were announced. Some have been part of this organization for eight years, generally four years with the PJSO and four with the PYO, where students must be in high school in order to qualify. And oh, yes, this orchestra … both orchestras … require an audition for membership.
     Each of the seniors was also acknowledged in the printed program with a photograph and a bio. The featured soloists were also given more lengthy articles in that program, and there were wonderful posters in the lobby for each of them. Large posters ─ I would guess 24x36. They added to the sense of the importance of the event and that, for the weekend, this was not a high school auditorium but a concert hall. They were impressive, and I’m including a picture I took of Steven’s. The copy above his photograph is I believe the same information that was included in the program.
     My hat is off to Anthony and Audrey Simons, who  have been Music Director and Assistant Music Director of this group for many years. Fine musicians and educators, they not only have introduced these young people to great music, but to the great tradition of decorum and respect for our art.
     As I said … I attended a concert yesterday.