June 14, 2017

Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra Closes Season With Stellar Piano Soloist

Like many performing organizations in Princeton involving students, the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra (GPYO) has spent this past year honing their orchestral sound to make the most of their young players, only to bid farewell to graduating seniors at the end of the concert season. This past Saturday night, GPYO sent its “senior class” off with a well-performed concert of challenging orchestral music featuring a prodigious multi-talented young pianist in a movement of a concerto which challenges even the most experienced soloists. GPYO has several instrumental ensembles under its organizational umbrella, and Saturday night’s concert in Richardson Auditorium showcased the older and more experienced players in the Concert Orchestra and Symphonic Orchestra.

Beginning with an overture by Austrian light opera composer Franz von Suppé, Concert Orchestra Conductor Dr. Arvin Gopal made it clear that he expects the best from the young musicians of the ensemble, and they were professional from the start. Von Suppé’s Poet and Peasant Overture may have sounded familiar to the younger members of the Richardson audience from its use in Popeye cartoons, and as the Viennese-flavored overture went along, the Concert Orchestra became cleaner and more precise in its performance. The “peasant” half of the overture was especially well-punctuated by percussion, and Dr. Gopal led the orchestra well through the transitions among the musical sections.

Dr. Gopal and the Concert Orchestra continued a stately approach to the music with the “Jupiter” excerpt from Gustav Holst’s The Planets, beginning in a crisp and brisk tempo featuring majestic brass befitting the largest planet in the solar system. A large section of celli played the movement’s primary melodic theme, which Holst later transformed into the hymn “I Vow to Thee my Country,” without a great deal of overly-Romantic playing, showing that the concert’s emphasis was on power and grace.

The closing work of the Concert Orchestra performance, an arranged Finale from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, incorporated the most familiar music from the final movement of Beethoven’s signature orchestral work in a solid performance by the orchestra. The Concert Orchestra began this Finale with the familiar triad, and was soon off and running; accents were clean and lyrical melodies from the winds were well-heard in the orchestral texture. Dr. Gopal brought out well the clarity of the rhythmic figures, well complemented by a quintet of horns. Dr. Gopal kept the music somewhat detached for clarity’s sake, and violin strokes were particularly decisive. Although this arranged work was not completely as Beethoven wrote, it was nonetheless sufficiently challenging and an accomplishment for the Concert Orchestra.

GPYO’s flagship ensemble, the Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Kawika Kahalehoe, took the stage for the balance of the concert, performing repertory usually heard from professional orchestras. The defining work performed was the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, featuring guest soloist and high school junior Anna Gugliotta, a pianist who on a normal day is principal cellist in the Symphonic Orchestra (also an accomplished organist in her musical spare time). Ms. Gugliotta took her time on the familiar opening octaves of the piano concerto, immediately making a musical statement. As a performer, she was clearly unafraid of drama, taking complete control of the delicacy and melodic fluidity in the music. Ms. Gugliotta did not play with a great deal of flash, which required the audience to listen even harder to her graceful playing, and showed not only her thoughtful, rather than showy, approach to the music but also her professionalism way beyond her years.

The final three works performed by the GPYO Symphonic Orchestra demonstrated the depth of the ensemble and the standard set by Mr. Kahalehoe for the young musicians. An unassuming and unpretentious conductor, Mr. Kahalehoe clearly expected the best from the players. Hector Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture was marked by an elegant English horn solo by Hannah Fusco amidst a sprightly and rollicking interpretation of the one-movement work by the orchestra. Sergei Prokofiev’s five-movement Lt. Kije Suite featured precise trumpet solos from Will Flemming, and the Polovtsian Dances of Aleksander Borodin brought the concert to a rousing close. Like the Princeton University Orchestra and Glee Club earlier this spring, the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra bid farewell to the seniors in the ensembles, many of whom have great aspirations to continue in music.