The Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra (GPYO) finished the 2012-13 season by showcasing two of the ensembles of the orchestra’s expansive program as well as a guest vocal soloist and a winner of the GPYO-sponsored concerto competition, all part of the opening concert of this year’s Princeton Festival. Like most GPYO performances, the concert Saturday night at Richardson Auditorium included shorter pieces and movements from larger orchestral works, but the selection of overtures, vocal airs, and symphonic movements delighted the audience and gave the graduating seniors from the ensemble the opportunity to go out on a high note.
GPYO’s season this year included a record level of participation in the four ensembles which make up their program, as well as a concert at Carnegie Hall. The Youth Orchestra, and in particular its spring concert, has maintained a strong history with the Princeton/ Pettoranello Sister City connection, and the concert Saturday night paid tribute with Neapolitan songs performed by guest tenor Jon Darios. Mr. Darios, a well-established and accomplished singer and actor, performed a lively art song of Rossini and three selections from the early 20th century with animation and keen excitement, even if overpowered by the GPYO Symphonic Orchestra in the first half of the concert. The Rossini “La Danza” and spirited rendition of “Funiculi, Funicula” (without which no Neapolitan vocal evening would be complete) were accompanied by a more restrained orchestral backing, making the words much crisper and the spirit of the songs more clear. Throughout all the vocal selections, both orchestra and soloist handled teasing rubatos well, with clean swirling winds especially marking the Francesco Paolo Tosti air toward the beginning of the program.
Symphonic Orchestra conductor Kawika Kahalehoe began the evening with the exuberant playing of the overture to Rossini’s opera La Gazza Ladra. Clean and subtle playing could be heard from a large brass section, with the strings coming to life in the second part of the overture. A trio of crisp flutes and solos from oboist Heeyoung Park contrasted the lean string sound, as well as exceptional piccolo playing from Sarah Gift, especially in the extreme upper register of the instrument. Rossini overtures always have a bit of mischievous humor, which the Symphonic Orchestra was able to find.
The GPYO Concert Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Arvin Gopal, demonstrated a more contained sound than the Symphonic Orchestra, with a nice light sectional string sound in Rossini’s overture to The Barber of Seville. The familiar second half of the overture erred on the side of musical care rather than brisk tempo, but still achieved drama, aided by horn, clarinet, and bassoon solos. Dr. Gopal bravely led the Concert Orchestra through the tricky Jupiter movement of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, beginning in a sprightly tempo with crisp brass and decisive strokes by the strings, and lavishly playing through the familiar “I Vow to Thee, my Country” hymn. The Concert Orchestra also found lightness and melody in an overture to Richard Wagner’s Rienzi, effectively opened by a trumpet lead from Andrew Hill.
The star of the second half of the concert was clearly Dallas Noble, a thirteen-year-old violinist who was a winner of the GPYO Concerto Competition. Her selection of Edouard Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole was no easy task, made even more remarkable by the fact that she played with the orchestra in all the other pieces on the program, rather than sit and wait her turn to solo. Ms. Noble is clearly serious about her music, as the violin solo reached high into the instrument’s register from the start. She was clearly in control of the music, finding passion, lyricism, and sweetness in the one-movement piece, while the Symphonic Orchestra provided some of its cleanest playing of the evening. A ten-year veteran of the violin and currently a student at the prestigious Settlement Music School, Ms. Noble clearly has a future with this instrument and will no doubt be winning more competitions in the future.
The 53rd Annual Spring Concert of the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra was the opening event of The Princeton Festival, which is presenting concerts throughout the month in venues around Princeton. More information about The Princeton Festival and its schedule of performances and workshops can be obtained by visiting www.princ