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Samuel Wallach

Stony Brook University’s 2015 Pre-College Concerto winner Samuel Wallach will perform a piano solo at the concert. Photo from Susan Deaver

By Rita J. Egan

The University Orchestra at Stony Brook University is busy rehearsing a fun night of music for family members of all ages. On Tuesday, March 1, they will present their Annual Family Concert, this year titled Musical Humor, on the Staller Center for the Arts Main Stage at 7:30 p.m.

Susan Deaver, conductor of the university orchestra and faculty member at Stony Brook, said the annual concert was already taking place when she began working at the university in 2000; however, up until 2013, it was called the Annual Children’s Concert. 

“We just discovered that the students and parents and grandparents and friends that they came with, everyone had a really good time, so we decided to rename it,” Deaver said.

The conductor said every year there’s a different theme such as magic, outer space, movies, and masquerade. “Every year I try to think of something that we can tie in some classical musical,” she said.

This year Deaver said the 70-member, all-student ensemble will celebrate musical humor, explaining that orchestral music isn’t as stuffy or complicated as many think and often is used in cartoons.

The conductor said attendees can expect to hear pieces such as the “William Tell Overture,” which was used as the “Lone Ranger” theme song, and excerpts from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of Animals,” where instruments imitate the sounds of creatures such as chickens or kangaroos jumping. The show will also include music from American composer LeRoy Anderson who has written short tongue-in-cheek pieces. Deaver said they are performing one of his pieces titled “Typewriter Concerto,” which replicates the sounds of an old typewriter.

A tradition during the concert is a solo by the winner of the Stony Brook University Pre-College Concerto Competition. “It’s a really great way to feature young talent. We’ve had really good soloists,” Deaver said.

The 2015 winner Samuel Wallach will perform a solo on the piano, the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12. Deaver said each student participating in the competition had a 10-minute slot to perform a movement from a concerto, and a committee of judges decided who was best. She said, “Sam played great. He was wonderful.”

Wallach, a sophomore at Ward Melville High School, said in the month of February, he’s been practicing every Tuesday with the university orchestra and at home with his piano teacher. The young pianist said he’s happy that he won the competition.

Wallach became interested in piano when he started playing with an electric keyboard as a small child. His parents signed him up for piano lessons around the third grade. While he’s performed solo and with a chamber group of four musicians, this is the first time Wallach will be playing with an orchestra. “I don’t know quite how to picture it; I’m excited,” Wallach said.

Deaver said every year the concert includes surprises for the audience, too. Last year at the end of the show, while the orchestra played the theme from “Frozen,” “Let It Go,” someone came on stage dressed as Elsa. The surprise was a big hit with the children who were singing along.

The orchestra also interacts with the audience and gives short demonstrations of the different instruments. Deaver said she asks audience members things like: Who plays string instruments? Who plays wood wind instruments? The conductor said the orchestra members always enjoy the interaction with the audience.

The show keeps children engaged not only by talking directly to them but also by keeping the show to an hour. Deaver said the concert is a great opportunity for kids to hear all the instruments together, and it’s more approachable, because when it comes to orchestral music, “sometimes people think it’s too sophisticated or untouchable.”

“I really hope they are inspired to listen to more orchestral music and music in general. And, for the youngest ones who are not playing an instrument yet, I hope it inspires them to consider studying an instrument. For those who are already studying an instrument, I hope it inspires them to want to achieve even more,” said Deaver. “If nothing else, it exposes them to new and great music, because it’s a very different experience hearing it live, as opposed to a recording or YouTube, because all your senses are really activated, ears, eyes, everything, and there’s perspective,” she added.

Tickets for the concert are $5 and are available at the Staller Center Box Office or by calling 631-632-2787. For further information about the University Orchestra, contact the Stony Brook Department of Music at 631-632-7330 or visit its website at www.stonybrook.edu/music.