Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 19
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
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New Jersey Youth Symphony Concert Features Student Competition Winner

Nancy Plum

The New Jersey Youth Symphony, based in Murray Hill, is certainly a complex and busy organization, with more than 300 students in eight ensembles under its umbrella. With a newly-appointed Artistic Director (David Commanday), the organization has much to be proud of in its student performers and the challenging music they take on. NJYS’s Youth Orchestra, comprised of middle and high school students, presented its spring concert Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, demonstrating very impressive ensemble work as well as some exceptional solo playing.

Simon Lipskar, a conductor with a solid background in orchestral conducting and opera, in addition to degrees from Yale and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, led the orchestra in a program centered on an unusual arrangement of a late 17th century piece. Tomaso Antonio Vitali is one of the lesser known composers of the Italian Bologna school from the early to mid-Baroque, and his principal work of note was a chaconne for violin and continuo (which may or may not actually have been composed by him). This chaconne was unusual in its own right in its harmonies and revolutionary key changes which foreshadowed the Romantic era by a good hundred years. The chaconne was taken to new harmonic and virtuostic heights by Leopold Charlier who arranged the piece for solo violin and full orchestra. This was the version presented by the Youth Orchestra on Sunday afternoon, featuring solo violinist Lucia Nowik, a winner of the NJYS Bergen Concerto competition.

From the beginning of the “ground bass” in the celli and double basses, this chaconne placed itself in the Romantic era. Ms. Nowik began her solo with decisive double stops, launching into a very lush and virtuostic line. The solo violin part is a series of variations, each of which gave the soloist a chance to reconnect with a different part of the orchestra. A dialog between soloist and solo flute was particularly clean, and the piece reached a technical high point with Ms. Nowik playing speedy arpeggios against pizzicato strings. Ms. Nowik, homeschooled at her residence in North Plainfield, was also a winner in the NJYS Bergen Scholarship competition last year, has won several other awards, and clearly has a great future as a violinist in whatever university she chooses to attend. Mr. Lipskar may not have programmed this concert deliberately to show off the oboes, but whether coincidence or not, the four works on Sunday’s program also showcased one of the more exceptional members of the Youth Orchestra. Oboist Russell Hoffman is a middle school student in Mountain Lakes, serving as principal oboist in the orchestra (the second chair is a professional oboist). With the added responsibility of providing the tuning note for the entire ensemble, Mr. Hoffman also had solo lines in almost every piece on the program. Most impressive was his work in the concert opening Polovetsian Dances of Borodin and in the selections from Gabriel Fauré’s incidental music to Pélleas et Mélisande, a work overshadowed by the composition of the same name by Debussy. Fauré’s depiction of this story is equally as picturesque, and the three selections performed by the Youth Orchestra were serene and effectively programmatic. Mr. Hoffman had extensive solo lines in the opening “Prélude” and second movement “Entr’acte” (along with clarinetist Atid Kimelman, flutist Yixiao Wang, and cellist Kelly Liang), and his overall playing, combined with stage presence and poise were most impressive for someone his age. Mr. Lipskar has kept the violin sections relatively small (considering how many students would likely qualify to be in this ensemble), making it easy to achieve a nice spin for the Entr’acte. A trio of flutes (Caroline Grano, Alison Ricardo, and Yixiao Wang) closed the second movement well, and flute and harp together were especially effective in the third movement.

Mr. Lipskar is clearly a stickler for musical details with these students, fixing a few tuning issues at the beginning of the concert and keeping the musicians on track during the performance. With a clear musical plan for each piece, Mr. Lipskar was able to motivate the young musicians to play their best to close out what seems to have been a very successful season.

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