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Stony Brook University Orchestra

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.  

Stony Brook University Symphony Orchestra
Free event to highlight kid compositions and musical surprises

By Melissa Arnold

Music has a way of moving us both physically and emotionally. Regardless of culture, language or age, the right song can make just about anyone smile.

For more than 20 years, the Stony Brook University Symphony Orchestra, an all-student ensemble featuring undergraduate and graduate music majors as well as qualified non-music majors, has put on a special Family Orchestra Concert, aiming to instill an excitement for music in children while bringing generations together. The free event returns to the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University on Tuesday, Feb. 28. 

Featured soloist violinist Elvina Liu will perform the opening movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4.

Conductor Susan Deaver works hard each year to dream up a fun and creative theme for the performance. Some are obvious — recent concerts have focused on contrasts or weather, to name a few — but others are more subtle.

This year’s theme, “Musical Surprises,” will challenge the audience to listen for something unexpected in each piece.

“Everybody likes surprises, right?” joked Deaver, who’s been with the university since 2000. “There are a few ways we’ve included surprises in this show. For example, we have two [portions] from Sir Edward Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations,’ which offer surprising changes in mood and tempo. There’s also ‘Thunder and Lightning’ [by Johann Strauss II], which reflects the surprise of being caught in a sudden thunderstorm.”

The concert includes both recognizable and lesser-known pieces, but the majority are short to provide as much variety as possible. And the program is just an hour long, helping to keep the littlest concertgoers happy while getting everyone home at a decent time. It is a school night, after all.

A surprising new addition to the program this year are mini-melodies composed by young orchestra students in the community.

Elementary school musicians from the Hauppauge Public School District have attended the concert for the past several years as a nighttime field trip. Interest in the concert continues to grow, and this year, Deaver approached music teacher Timerie Gatto with an exciting idea.

“There are three elementary schools in Hauppauge, and each one has an orchestra. We started with each child bringing one parent to the concert, so that they could all see what a future in music can look like if they work at it. Now we are also involving younger siblings,” Gatto said. 

“Susan Deaver is fantastic, she interacts with the audience and does whatever she can to help the kids develop a greater appreciation for music. This year, she asked if my students would make up melodies for the orchestra to play!”

With the help of classroom iPads, students were able to compose, hear and perform their own one-line melodies.

“It’s been an impressive experience for me, watching them develop their own titles and musical ideas. Some kids even put groups of notes into chords and developed more complex syncopated rhythms,” Gatto said.

The orchestra is comprised of about 75 university students from diverse backgrounds and fields of study. Among them is 20-year-old Elvina Liu, a senior music major from Auckland, New Zealand. Liu is also the orchestra’s concertmistress — a lead violinist who serves as liaison between the orchestra and conductor.

Liu will perform a solo from Mozart’s “Concerto No. 4 in D Major,” which she said can be surprising in its own way.

“I think classical works, such as this Mozart concerto, are commonly perceived as pieces that don’t allow for a lot of freedom in interpretation. A lot of teachers and musicians believe that there are certain elements that have one “correct” way of being played, which is a pretty outdated way of tackling these pieces in my opinion,” Liu explained. “I do make a great effort to respect Mozart’s writing and stylistic ideas, though I admit that I enjoy testing the limits and boundaries when I play. Sometimes I surprise myself in the moment as well!”

Liu and Gatto agreed that music provides children opportunities for development, self-expression and community in a way little else can.

“Music is one of those things where it doesn’t matter how bright, strong or fast you are. It’s accessible to all kinds of people regardless of their ability, and it offers the chance to connect with others in a nonverbal way,” Gatto said.

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will host the annual Stony Brook Family Orchestra Concert on the Main Stage on Tuesday, Feb. 28  from 7:30 to 8:30  p.m. Admission is free and tickets are not required. Children of all ages are welcome. For more information, call 631-632-7330 or visit at www.stonybrook.edu/music.

The Stony Brook University Orchestra

By Melissa Arnold

Long Island’s own Billy Joel was once quoted as saying, “Music is an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by, no matter what culture we’re from.”

The Stony Brook University Orchestra has spent decades working to broaden musical appreciation and exposure not just on campus, but in the community as well. Each year, their Family Orchestra Concert invites people of all ages, including young children, to join them for an hour-long performance full of interesting compositions and audience engagement.

This year’s featured soloist, violinist Sophie Bowden

Dr. Susan Deaver is celebrating her 20th year as the orchestra’s conductor and an artist-in-residence at Stony Brook. With careful planning, Deaver programs each concert around a unique theme. “Brainstorming new themes is certainly a creative process. A particular piece might give me an idea, or some aspect of the music can inspire me,” she explained. 

This year’s theme, titled Orchestral Contrasts, will showcase differences in orchestral sounds and musical styles.”There are so many contrasts in music to explore — tempo, instruments, dynamics, moods, character, even different types of composers,” said Deaver, adding that the audience will get to experience this with the strings, woodwind, brass and percussion sections.

The orchestra is comprised of 79 undergraduates, 1 graduate student, four teaching assistants and four high school students from the University Orchestra’s Young Artist Orchestral Program who were invited to participate for college credit. While the group does contain music majors and minors, most members are pursuing other fields. To accommodate everyone, the members rehearses just one evening a week for three hours. 

“I have students that are studying biomedical engineering, computer science, astronomy, psychology, and many other subjects — the common thread among them is that they all love music and want to continue to be involved in it,” Deaver said.

An annual highlight of the orchestra concert is a performance from a special young guest — the winner of the Young Artist Program’s Concerto Competition. Since 1996, Stony Brook’s Young Artists Program has allowed students in grades 3 through 12 the chance to hone their musical skills and meet other young musicians, all under the guidance of Stony Brook staff. Most students participate on the weekends, while a separate program is available during the summer.

“The concerto competition began years ago as a way of giving our students the opportunity to play with the university,” said Michael Hershkowitz, Stony Brook’s director of concerts and executive director of community programs, including the Young Artists Program.

The concerto winner can be a student of any age and instrument type. Each hopeful soloist performs for a panel of three judges, which includes Deaver and two impartial judges. Past performers have been violinists, cellists, pianists, winds players, and even vocalists.

This year’s winner is 16-year-old violinist Sophie Bowden, a junior at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington. She will perform the first movement of Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 by French Romantic composer Charles-Camille Saint-Saens.

“I like to express myself through my violin, and I like how it puts a smile on the faces of others. I perform a lot at nursing homes, especially during the holidays, where residents aren’t able to go out and see concerts. Bringing live, upbeat music to them does a lot to ease their depression; the vibe changes immediately,” said Bowden, who has played the violin since she was just 4 years old. 

Bowden, who said she is thrilled to have been chosen, admitted the audition process for the concerto competition was nerve-racking.  While she’s had smaller solos in the past, this will be her first time performing as a soloist with an orchestra. 

“Working with the university orchestra has really been a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience. I found that playing this particular concerto with a full orchestra was much more difficult than playing it with a single piano accompanist. The Saint-Saens concerto is a romantic period composition, so it’s less structured and restrained than metered works of the Baroque era,” Bowden explained. “For everyone to stay together, we must listen closely and watch the conductor more than usual. Fortunately for me, the university orchestra has many extremely competent players, and Ms. Deaver has been very supportive.” 

Hershkowitz said that the concert provides a fun and accessible opportunity to learn more about orchestral music and what it’s like to be part of an orchestra.

“There aren’t a lot of concerts out there that are meant for families, and that’s what makes this event so special — it’s not too long, you don’t have to worry about whether or not the kids are going to ‘make it’ through the experience. We don’t concern ourselves with concert etiquette, so it’s OK if a child wants to ask a question, gets up from their seat or makes noise,” he explained. “It’s about giving everyone a chance to have an experience with a full orchestra, to watch a conductor in action, to learn a little about different instruments and to hear the music change.”

The 2020 Family Orchestra Concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3 on the Staller Center’s Main Stage at Stony Brook University, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook. Tickets are $5. To purchase or learn more, call the box office at 631-632-ARTS or visit www.stonybrook.edu/music.

Photos courtesy of Sophie Bowden

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.