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Joanna Huang

By Melissa Arnold

The Stony Brook University Orchestra invites kids and adults alike on a musical journey with their annual Family Orchestra Concert on the Main Stage of the Staller Center for the Arts ton Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. The free hour-long performance allows even the youngest children to experience classical music and see where their imaginations lead. 

This year’s theme, “Musical Splendor in Nature,” showcases the wide variety of orchestral sounds — strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion — in ways that are inspired by natural beauty.

Orchestra conductor Susan Deaver comes up with a new theme each year, then scours her music library to see which songs work best together.

“There are so many pieces influenced by nature, and the decision making process was hard for this one — what to choose?” said Deaver, who’s been with the university since 2000. She also has to consider the length of each piece, the variety of instruments required, and how long ago it was last performed.

Among the more well-known selections is “Jupiter” from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, which might make the listener feel as though they’re soaring through space and contemplating the majesty of the universe. In “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saëns, kids will enjoy listening for the slow can-can that represents a tortoise and the shrill “hee haw” of donkeys played by violins. Professor of Music Emeritus Peter Winkler will serve as narrator. 

Other songs will bring concertgoers to a field of cornflowers and a forest in Finland covered with snow. 

Along the way, Deaver will take time to talk to the audience informally about each song, introducing the different instruments in the orchestra and explaining how they’re played. As always, there will be a relaxed atmosphere, plenty of surprises and even an opportunity for the audience to participate.

The concert’s featured violin soloist is 16-year-old Joanna Huang, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket and this year’s Young Orchestral Artist. A few exceptional high school students are invited to perform with the orchestra each year.

Huang and her siblings are the first ones in their family to play an instrument.

“When I was very young, I would sit in on both my brothers’ violin and piano lessons. Watching and hearing them made me say, ‘I want to play, too!’ It was a huge motivator for me,” she said.

Huang’s relationship with the university began as a fifth grader, when she took part in the Young Artists Program and a music summer camp. After that, the desire to perform with the orchestra only grew.

“When she was in eighth grade, Joanna reached out to me and asked about joining the orchestra, and I had to turn her down because she was too young yet, but she was persistent,” Deaver recalls. “She loves piano but is also passionate about the violin, and is a really fantastic performer. We’re excited to have her.”

Huang will play the final movement of Dvorak’s Violin Concerto in A, Op. 53. She has already performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, held the coveted position of concertmaster with numerous ensembles, and hopes to study violin performance once she’s finished high school.

“I love the violin and I love collaborating with others in music. I have always had an interest in playing violin with an orchestra or a chamber group,” she said. “Hearing great pieces of music and then having an opportunity to play those masterpieces, as a soloist or in a group, is the best thing that could ever happen to me.” 

The orchestra is comprised of 70 Stony Brook University students with varied music backgrounds and academic majors. Many are heading toward careers in science, technology, engineering or medicine.

“I think for a lot of the students, music has been a part of their lives for so long that they wanted to stay with it, no matter where their careers take them,” Deaver said. “It’s a nice break for them to get away from the pressures of academics for three hours a week [to rehearse]. Some do study music, but others may go on to join community orchestras or just enjoy the arts and share that with their families.”

The Stony Brook University Family Orchestra Concert will be held on the Main Stage at the Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook on Tuesday, Feb. 27 from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-632-2787.