Over the past decade, Princeton Festival has grown to include a wide range of performance genres, from orchestra, to opera, to jazz. Just as diverse is the music presented by the ensembles which are part of Princeton Festival. The Festival kicked off its month-long jam-packed season this past weekend with the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra’s (GPYO) concert of operatic, vocal, and orchestral selections Saturday night in Richardson Auditorium. The annual spring concert of the Youth Orchestra featured the Concert and Symphonic Orchestras, with an evening clearly about the young musicians who take part in the GPYO program.
Dr. Arvin Gopal, conductor of the middle through high school level Concert Orchestra, presented works that capitalized on the army of violins in the Concert Orchestra. Following a humorous start in which Dr. Gopal sang along with an unanswered cell phone in the audience, the Concert Orchestra launched into the 20th-century Chant and Joyous Dance of American composer Eliot del Borgo. The unison strings provided a heavy and dark sound against well-unified and pulsating trombones. Dr. Gopal maintained a solid driving rhythm through the piece and showed himself to be a steady and easy-to-follow conductor.
Modest Mussorgsky’s fantasia Night on Bald Mountain featured impressive lower trombones and tuba from within the Concert Orchestra, and Dr. Gopal was able to find numerous tempi within the one-movement piece. A pair of flutes demonstrated clean tuning, with Shannon Lu playing graceful solo lines.
The more advanced young musicians of the GPYO perform with the Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Kawika Kahalehoe. The Symphonic Orchestra focused their portion of the program largely on opera, with two orchestral selections from 19th-century operas and four arias featuring tenor Jon Darios. The two operatic orchestra excerpts — the overture from Johann Strauss’ Der Zigeunerbaron and an intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana featured numerous oboe solos, elegantly played by Kaitlyn Walker. Ms. Walker showed a great deal of physicality in her playing, taking her time on the long Alpine-like lines. The horn section of the orchestra showed a very smooth blend in the overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz, with clean melodic lines played by the clarinets.
Well-blended upper strings marked the intermezzo, as extended string melodies were spun out against pizzicato playing from the double basses. A very nice touch was added to the end of the piece by harpist Alyssa Caffrey. Tenor Jon Darios, a veteran of musical theater and opera, sang arias of 19th-century operatic composers Donizetti, Tosti, and Califano, showing himself to be a more decisive singer in the faster selections. He wore a microphone on stage, which probably was not necessary and did not seem to match the acoustic palette of the players, but he was nonetheless entertaining as a performer.
An internal star of the Symphonic Orchestra stepped out in front with a movement from Mozart’s Concerto No. 1 in G Major for Flute and Orchestra. Katarzyna Dobrzycka, heading to Rutgers in the fall, played a chipper solo line with clean scales as the reduced orchestra of strings, oboes, and horns accompanied her. One could hear every turn in the melodic line, and the episodes within the rondo were evenly played with detached effect as if in an 18th-century court parlor.
The theme of Princeton Festival this year is “The New World: Voices of the Americas.” Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra’s concert Saturday night fit right in with not only repertory of the Americas but also the “voices” of its young musicians performing together.