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Youth Orchestra Closes Season With Rousing Italian Celebration

Nancy Plum

It was definitely Italian Night at the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra (GPYO) spring concert on Saturday night at Richardson Auditorium. Music Director Fernando Raucci programmed a number of 18th century Italian pieces and the concert was presented in honor of the sister city relationship between Princeton and Pettoranello, Italy. Saturday night's performance wrapped up GPYO's 2004-2005 season with Italian musical delicacy, not to mention a stellar performance by the winner of the orchestra's 2005 Concerto Competition.

GPYO's preparatory ensemble, the Camerata Ensemble, started the end-of-year celebration with two lively works. Elizabeth Schultze Hofstetter led the string ensemble in Elizabeth Green's arrangement of Johann Stamitz's Sinfonia in D, and once the piece was rolling, the young musicians played with enthusiasm and energy. While there may have been tuning issues from time to time, the musical intention was evident, and the trademark Stamitz Mannheim rockets were well played. The cello section was the best section, precise in their underpinning of the orchestra.

Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite for Strings sounded very English incorporating Renaissance dances and folksongs. The string players dug into the rich writing, playing the Bransles dance with quickness, precision, dynamic contrasts, and smooth pizzicato. Saturday night also had a family element, as soprano Martha Elliott, parent of one of the players, performed several Italian opera arias. Although, with her 17th and 18th century background, one would not think of Ms. Elliott as a 19th century Italian opera singer, her lightness of sound added to the poignancy and innocence of Verdi's Ave Maria. Ms. Elliott sang the text in a manner which paid homage to the aria's operatic roots, and brought the aria to an ethereal close as the 'amen' seemed to float away.

Ms. Elliott returned later in the program for the well-known Puccini aria Quando me'n vo from La Boheme, and also for an aria perfectly suited for her voice, Rossini's Una voce poco fa from The Barber of Seville. Usually assigned to a mezzo-soprano in operatic settings, the Rossini aria is loaded with coloratura fire which Ms. Elliott easily handled. Her mischievous and coy singing style made one feel as though she was distracting her audience with vocal sparkle and clarity while secretly stealing cookies from the cookie jar. The one flaw in all of these arias was that the orchestra could have come down a bit at times.

The other featured soloist for the evening was15-year-old flutist Jacob Fridkis, already a collector of quite a few performing accolades. Mr. Fridkis won this year's GPYO Concerto Competition, and not content with a simple Mozart or Haydn concerto, he chose a demanding concerto by 20th century Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. The impressively full sound of the orchestra complemented the light and buoyant solo line, as Mr. Fridkis easily played through a beginning portion as difficult as any Bach piece. Khachaturian's flute concerto is virtually unknown, and this exceptional young flutist made the difficult passages seem like a summer walk, and carried on an effective dialog with the winds.

Although considerably older than the students who performed his work Patience, Princeton University composer Gregory Spears is very young by composer standards. His one movement Patience pays tribute to such composers as John Adams, while incorporating elements of American life. The first gesture of conductor Raucci was not to cue musicians but to raise the arm of an old LP record player to provide the static that was the background of the piece. Interesting percussive effects included bowing a cymbal with a variety of things as well as the use of wood blocks. Minimalist repetition was well handled by the trumpets, and the strings clearly had a collective musical thought, rather than just playing notes in a contemporary piece. This piece, together with the excellent concerto performance and overall solid musicianship of the players, demonstrated the Princeton area youths' depth of musical talent.


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