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Westminster Community Orchestra Presents Array of Student Talent in Concerto Concert

Nancy Plum

Anyone who thinks that the youth of Princeton are idling away their time in front of television and video games was obviously not at the Westminster Community Orchestra concert on Saturday night in Richardson Auditorium. Conductor Sarah Hatsuko Hicks led the all-volunteer ensemble in a program featuring this year's winners of a student concerto competition. For this year's competition the prodigies came out to play and the winners ranged from the sixth through the ninth grade.

In concert performance, youth tends to astound, and sixth-grader Farshad Tahvildar-Zadeh, a sixth grader at Princeton Charter School, set the standard from the outset in his rendition of the third movement of Dmitri Kabalevsky's Piano Concerto No. 3. None of the soloists was content with Mozart or easy Beethoven, but the Kabalevsky in particular was a rippling piece of continual motion with a great deal of crossed hands and skipping across the keyboard. No mere technician, Mr. Tahvildar-Zadeh had a musical intuition of where the music was going, and his mental focus kept up with his hands. He also clearly had a sense of his place in the ensemble, and watched Ms. Hicks meticulously as the orchestra provided solid accompaniment.

Mr. Tahvildar-Zadeh was a hard act to follow, but Carl Aquino, a ninth grader at South Brunswick High School, took the audience on an expert journey into the world of Mendelssohn. Piano Concerto No. 2 in d minor (the first movement of which Mr. Aquino performed), composed in 1837 and linking the style of Mozart with that of Weber and Beethoven, offered Mr. Aquino the opportunity to explore both sides of Mendelssohn "the lyrical songwriter and the dramatist." This concerto contained orchestral passages recalling Mozart and a solo piano part more like Liszt. Mr. Aquino's very smooth playing brought out the work's lyrical character, and he was exactly with Ms. Hicks and the orchestra in what was a very quick Allegro.

As the concert progressed, each concerto selection became more dramatic and complex. Joshua Suslak, a ninth grader at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, attacked the third movement of Grieg's Piano Concerto in a minor with fluid hands and intense focus as he dramatically emphasized the movement's folk-oriented character.

All three of these soloists have been winning awards and competitions, and have second careers playing other instruments in school or community ensembles. Also impressive in this concert was their professionalism and presentation, and their ability to work with the orchestra instead of trying to upstage it.

The orchestra played two works on its own, one of which also included students in the ensemble. Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture included other student musicians from the Westminster Conservatory, who fit in well with the joyous spirit and dynamic playing of the orchestra. Ms. Hicks kept a nice flow to the Rossini-esque spirit, and the percussion and trumpet sections provided fitting musical punctuation. Je Oh also played very lyrical English horn solos.

The work which closed the concert, Bartók's gave all the instrumental sections an opportunity to shine. Despite a furry start by the celli, the flutes were very clear, with additional effective playing by the oboe and clarinet sections. The "concerto" effect makes its way through all the sections of the orchestra, and collectively, the instrumentalists were precise and accurate when it was their turn to play.

Sarah Hatsuko Hicks recently announced her appointment as associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, in the fall of 2005. In her four years with the Westminster Community Orchestra, she has brought the ensemble a long way through some very challenging repertoire, and has demonstrated the depth of student talent in the Princeton area.

The Westminster Community Orchestra's final performance of the 2004-2005 season, on May 14, will be an "Opera Gala." Ticket information can be obtained by calling (609) 921-2663 or the box office at (609) 258-5000.


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