It was the 27th such showcase, featuring endearingly young performers from the Music & Arts Conservatory playing ageless music from the concert repertory. Composer Gary Sheldon was the guest conductor, Nina Bodnar directed the Virtuoso Strings and Junior Virtuosi, and Natalya Klimov led the Junior Choir.
Much is made of the so-called graying of the audience for classical music, but these performers — teenagers and even younger — were sterling evidence to the contrary. Their playing was skilled, and the selections were demanding of their blossoming professional skills.
Highlights included the following:
» The allegro and largo e spicatto from Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D-Minor, Opus 3, No. 11, crisply and brilliantly played by the Junior Virtuosi and Virtuoso Strings, respectively. This 16th century master’s music conveys the very essence of spring.
» The Slavic “Felt Boots,” a traditional Russian song arranged by Klimov and stirringly played by the Virtuoso Strings.
» The allegro from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Concerto No. 17, K453, played by teenage pianist Daria Etezadi, According to program notes by the soloist, “The last movement of the concerto is a ‘beautiful’ melody whistled by his pet songbird.” Etezadi also studies voice with Sharlae Jenkins and has won numerous competitions.
» The allegro con brio movement from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Concerto No. 2, Opus 19 performed by Grace Stanton, 17, who is home-schooled. The pianist writes that she likes how Beethoven “begins the cadenza in a fugue-like manner, but then transitions into sweeping lyrical melodies.”
» That selection was followed by the adagio and rondo from the same piece, played by John Etsell, 18, a senior at San Marcos High School. He dedicated his performance to teacher Lana Bodnar, “without whom I would not know how to sit at a piano, let alone play one.”
After intermission, the violinists took center stage. Joshelle Conley, who is all of 15 years old, gave a spirited reading of the allegro con fuoco from Henryk Wieniawski’s Concerto No. 2 in D-Minor. Sofia Prykhitko, also 15, chose “Scene de Ballet” by Charles Auguste de Beriot for its “jubilant and ecstatic feel.” Dos Pueblos High School junior Camille Miller, 16, played the allegro con troppo movement from “Symphony Espagnole” by Edouard Lalo, demonstrating the skill and emotion she has brought to a number of scholarship-winning performances in the past.
The closing selection was the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, in an emotional tour de force by Michael Sikich, another home-schooled student, who is 17. Among many achievements, Sikich was awarded the Sergei Rachmaninoff Award for Outstanding Piano Virtuosity by the Santa Barbara Music Club. He also performs at various Santa Barbara venues with a jazz combo called Cut Time.
Let it be noted that not only were the performers very young and very dedicated, but the enthusiastic audience was composed largely of young people, cheering their gifted peers. Classical music is alive and well.