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Susan Deaver

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

By Melissa Arnold

Classical music has a long-held reputation for being upscale — there’s something about it that feels refined, polished and graceful. The Department of Music at Stony Brook University is passionate about demystifying the genre, making the works of Mozart, Brahms and others enjoyable for everyone.

Each year, the Stony Brook University Orchestra invites the community to join them for their Family Orchestra Concert, an hour-long performance meant for all ages, including young children. This year’s concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5 at the Staller Center for the Arts’ Main Stage.

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

“[This event] used to be called the children’s concert, but we didn’t want to give the impression that it’s just for children — the whole family comes along, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy,” said conductor Susan Deaver, who’s led the orchestra since 2000.

The ensemble is comprised of over 70 Stony Brook students, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as a handful of area high schoolers. Many of the students aren’t music majors and come from a variety of disciplines. In fact, the majority are studying biomedical engineering.

“So many of these students have been in music all their lives and don’t want to let it go,” Deaver said. “We have a lot of great players, and it’s a real blend of disciplines, the common denominator being a love of playing orchestral music.”

 This year’s concert theme will highlight dance in orchestral music, with each piece either having “dance” in its title or creating a sense of dance and movement. The repertoire features recognizable pieces including selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Bach’s Minuet in G, along with some that might be unfamiliar, like Strauss’ Thunder and Lightning Polka. 

The program will also feature works by Brahms, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Borodin. Dancers under the direction of SBU’s faculty member Amy Yoop Sullivan will collaboarte with the orchestra.

A highlight of each year’s concert is a solo performance from a grade school musician in Stony Brook’s Young Artist program. Open to grades 6 through 12, the program allows young musicians to enhance their musicianship and ensemble performance skills. Students are encouraged to enter an annual concerto contest, where a panel of impartial judges chooses a student to play at the concert.

This year’s contest winner, 12-year-old pianist Viviane Kim, will play Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major.

“I wasn’t really nervous because I’d practiced a lot. I played the song for my family, my friends, and anyone else who came to our house,” said Viviane, a seventh-grader at Port Jefferson Middle School. “It also helped that only three people were listening,” she joked.

Viviane, who also plays the flute, comes from a musical family — her father, Alan Kim, plays piano as well, and her grandmother is a violinist. “I played piano all the time when Viviane was a baby, and she took a natural interest in it. She started playing around the same time she started reading,” her father said. 

Michael Hershkowitz, executive director of Community Music Programs for the university, sees the annual concert as a chance to expose the audience to something new and wonderful.

“It’s important for classical musicians to be as accessible as possible and to break down barriers for people wanting to try it. A lot of people have an impression that classical music is just old and stuffy,” Hershkowitz said. “I think that dance is one of my favorite themes we’ve done — so much of music is tied to motion and bringing people together. And once you see a classical concert, you want to do it more.”

All seats for the Family Orchestra Concert are $5. For tickets and information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

For more information about the University Orchestra, contact the Stony Brook Department of Music at 631-632-7330 or visit www.stonybrook.edu/music.

A musical adventure for the whole family

By Rita J. Egan

The University Orchestra at Stony Brook University is preparing to take audience members on a one-hour musical adventure. The ensemble will present its annual family orchestra concert, Adventures in Orchestral Music, at the Staller Center for the Arts on March 6.

Conductor Susan Deaver said the orchestra is planning a night filled with concertos from a variety of composers from all over the world such as America, Russia, Germany, England and Argentina. The list of songs include Mikhail Glinka’s overture to “Ruslan and Lyudmila,” Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-Down” from “Rodeo,” Morton Stevens’ “Hawaii Five-O” and John Williams’ “Star Wars Epic, Part II.” “They all sound different from one another, so it’s kind of different palettes of orchestral color,” Deaver said.

The conductor said the 70-piece orchestra consists of strings, brass, woodwind and percussion sections. While most of the musicians are college undergraduates, three are high school students who are part of the Stony Brook Young Artists Program. There are also a few graduate students who are nonmusic majors and five teaching assistants. The students’ majors range from music to biology, math and biochemistry. “The common thread is that they’ve all seriously studied music at some point,” Deaver said.

The night will feature a solo by 16-year-old violinist Mariana Knaupp, the winner of the 2017 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition. Mariana will perform the first movement of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G Minor, the piece she played for the competition, with the orchestra. “She sounded great, and she had a lot of poise as a performer; she played really, really well,” Deaver said. “We have a competition, and they’re all playing really well, but there’s something that usually points to one person.”

Mariana, who lives in Huntington and is homeschooled, has studied violin for 11 years with Thalia Greenhalgh and is part of the Stony Brook University Young Artists Program. The violinist is a member of the string ensemble Metrognomes, which performs a few times a year at nursing homes, sports venues and holds benefit concerts for disaster victims. For seven years, she also has been a part of the Gemini Youth Orchestra and has played at Symphony Space and Lincoln Center. She said she’s excited about her first time playing with a full orchestra and was surprised when she won the competition.

“I didn’t really expect to win because there were a lot of really good players involved,” Mariana said in a recent phone interview. “It was a really nice surprise that I won, and I’m very excited to actually play with an orchestra because I’ve wanted to for several years now.”

Mariana said when her violin teacher asked her what she wanted to play for the competition, she knew she wanted a romantic concerto. She has been playing her chosen piece for a year now and said it’s a beautiful concerto that she’s looking forward to sharing with the family concert audience.

“I would just like to be able to play the concerto as the composer intended it and just convey what he would have wanted in a performance,” Mariana said. The violinist has enjoyed rehearsals with the orchestra and said when she attends college she hopes to major in math, English or neuroscience. She plans on taking music classes as electives and playing with a university orchestra.

Like past family concerts, Deaver said the orchestra members will interact with the audience, talking with them about the different instruments and music. The musicians also have some surprises in store for attendees. “Myself and the orchestra, I think we are always energized by the audience because we’re interacting with them more, and it kind of breaks down any barriers that you might have,” Deaver said. “They’re really part of the concert almost, the audience since we’re interacting with them, I think we all feel really energized from it.”

The University Orchestra at Stony Brook University presents Adventures in Orchestral Music on March 6 at the Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook at 7:30 p.m.. All tickets are $5. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 631-632-ARTS (2787) or visit www.stonybrook.edu.music.

Susan Deaver will conduct the Stony Brook University Orchestra on Feb. 28. Photo from SBU

By Rita J. Egan

The musicians of the Stony Brook University Orchestra, consisting of 70 undergraduate students, are tuning up their instruments. On Feb. 28 at the Staller Center, they will present their Annual Family Orchestra Concert, The Magic of Music, featuring pianist Emily Ramonetti, winner of the school’s 2016 Pre-College Concerto Competition.

Previously called the Annual Family Concert, university conductor Susan Deaver said this year the word “orchestra” was added to the title of the event so those attending will have a better understanding of the type of music featured in the show when purchasing tickets. Deaver said the one-hour concert includes short pieces and is a great way to introduce orchestral music to children who may be attending this type of performance for the first time. She also does her best to choose music that people of all ages will enjoy, and priced at $5, tickets are affordable so everyone in the family can easily attend.

Northport High School senior Emily Ramonetti will be the featured pianist at the concert. Photo from SBU

The conductor said the focus on shorter pieces allows the orchestra to demonstrate a variety of numbers from various composers from different countries as well as centuries. Plus, during the show each of the sections — woodwinds, strings, brass and percussion — are featured. The hope is for the audience to get a well-rounded orchestral experience. “They get the maximum amount and variety of orchestra music in one hour as possible,” Deaver said.

Mozart’s Overture to the “Magic Flute,” which will be performed on Feb. 28, influenced this year’s theme, The Magic of Music, according to the conductor. “Always, music has some magic to it. It’s such a universal language. Something is, I think, so magical and wonderful about the sounds of the music and instruments of an orchestra,” Deaver said.

The concert will include Saint-Saens’ “Danse Bacchanale” and a tribute to Leonard Bernstein with selections from “West Side Story,” according to Deaver. She said the concert will open with “Festival Prelude” composed by Alfred Reed. “It’s brilliant orchestration. It’s short, it’s just a perfect opener,” the conductor said.

Deaver’s wish for the annual event is that everyone in attendance from the young children to the grandparents will gain a greater appreciation for orchestral and classical music. During the concerts, the conductor said she and the orchestra members always interact with the audience by asking them questions in hopes that they will feel more involved with the show. “I think it helps them break down any sort of barriers, because they feel part of the concert, too, because they are,” she said.

As for featured pianist, Ramonetti will be playing the 1st movement of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2. A member of the university’s pre-college program since 10th grade, she won the 2016 Stony Brook University Pre-College Concerto Competition right before Thanksgiving. Deaver said at the competition the young pianist “was very well prepared, very musical.”

The senior at Northport High School has fit right in with the orchestra during rehearsals. “She’s been great. She’s a very mature, musically prepared musician. She already had it memorized from the competition, so then when she came to rehearsal, she fit in right way. She did really great. So it’s been our pleasure to work with her,” the conductor said.

Ramonetti, who has studied piano since she was three years old, said she realized she had a passion for music in fifth grade when the theme of the school’s yearbook was “We Dream Big.” “My dream that I put in the yearbook was to be a performer and travel around the world,” she said.

The pianist, who is also a violinist and composer, is enjoying rehearsing with the orchestra, and while in the past she has participated in performances, including playing background parts for her school orchestra, she admits that rehearsing with the college ensemble is different. “It’s definitely a much bigger sound than just rehearsing with a second piano,” she said.

Her performance piece was featured in the Disney classic “Fantasia,” and she explained that Shostakovich composed it in the 20th century. “It’s very, very difficult, very virtuosic,” she said. The teenager is looking forward to performing with the orchestra and presenting the concerto to the audience. “I hope they’ll see how much I love this piece, and how much I love performing it with this orchestra,” Ramonetti said.

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will present The Magic of Music on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. on the Main Stage. Tickets are $5 for all ages and are on sale at the center’s box office, 631-632-ARTS (2787). For more information about the University Orchestra, visit www.stonybrook.edu/music or call 631-632-7330.

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.

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