Local teens perform with Anchorage Civic Orchestra

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 13:54
  • Eagle River violinist Jose Abdelnoor tunes his instrument backstage before a dress rehearsal with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra at the Sydney Laurence Theatre March 24, 2017. Abdelnoor is one of five high school musicians selected to perform at the orchestra’s winter concert. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Eagle River violinists Jose Abdelnoor and Amber Pike wait to rehearse with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra at the Sydney Laurence Theatre March 24, 2017. The orchestra’s winter concert features a quartet of high school violinists, winners of a 2016 concerto competition. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Chugiak High School violinist Julia Koehler warms up backstage before a dress rehearsal with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra at the Sydney Laurence Theatre March 24, 2017. Koehler is one of five high school musicians selected to perform at the orchestra’s winter concert. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Eagle River violinist Amber Pike warms up backstage before a dress rehearsal with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra at the Sydney Laurence Theatre March 24, 2017. Pike is one of five high school musicians selected to perform at the orchestra’s winter concert. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Three young Chugiak-Eagle River musicians will take the stage at the Sydney Laurence Theatre Saturday night, guest soloists performing with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra.

Winners of the orchestra’s most recent concerto competition, the high school musicians are part of a quartet playing Vivaldi’s Concerto in B Minor – a popular selection the young violinists catapulted to a new level of performance.

“I don’t think it’s ever been done by kids that age here in Anchorage before,” said orchestra director Philip Munger, a prolific Alaskan composer and maestro.

In Chugiak-Eagle River, Munger said, some of the best school music programs in Southcentral Alaska foster some of the best student musicians in the state.

The teen violinists began practicing for the December concerto competition more than six months ago, said Jose Abdelnoor, an Eagle River 15-year-old who plays with the Chugiak Symphonic Orchestra and Anchorage Youth Symphony. He performed the concerto alongside Jennifer Tollefsen, a sophomore at Bartlett High School, and fellow Chugiak High School musicians Amber Pike and Julia Koehler.

Together, they were four of the 14 contestants in the orchestra’s 2016 concerto competition. Traditionally, there’s only one winner. In 2016, Munger said, there were five: a piano soloist and the violin quartet.

“There were so many strong performances, it was hard to choose,” the director said.

For the young members of the winning quartet, the opportunity to play with the civic orchestra at the Performing Arts Center was an unexpected coup.

“We really worked hard: That was our goal, you know – we were going to do our best effort,” said Pike, standing backstage at the Alaska Performing Arts Center during a final dress rehearsal Friday night. “But when we won…..Oh my goodness!”

Pike said the civic orchestra’s winter concert would be her first onstage at the Sydney Laurence Theatre.

Like the other Chugiak-Eagle River musicians, Pike grew up in a musical world. She began playing piano at age 4, then violin in sixth grade, immersing herself in musical theater around the same time. She’s played with the Chugiak Symphonic Strings and the Anchorage Youth Symphony, at Interlochen Arts and Idyllwild Arts and with the Alaska All-State Orchestra.

Despite her prowess with the bow, her passion lies with the baton. Pike dreams of becoming “the next John Williams,” the American composer who created the soundtracks of classic films like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Jaws. Her future plans are filled with music.

“It’s my life,” she said.

Her fellow Chugiak musicians share her dedication.

Koehler, who began playing violin in elementary school, has performed with the Junior Youth Symphony and the Anchorage Youth Symphony and various Chugiak High School music programs. She’s studied in the summer music program at Idyllwild Arts Academy and landed spots at the Alaska School Activity Association’s state-level Solo and Ensemble competition.

Abdelnoor first picked up the bow in third grade, he said.

“I wanted to play the violin because my grandpa was great at playing the violin, and I wanted to be more like him,” he said.

Now, he’s an accomplished performer and frequent competitor. His playing has earned prizes at the 2016 Alaska State Fair Talent Competition and the 2015 Fur Rondy Great Alaskan Talent Competition, and superior ratings at the ASAA Solo and Ensemble competition. Abdelnoor’s performed with the Alaska All-State Orchestra and the National Association for Music Education’s All-Northwest Orchestra. This year, he was selected to join the National Youth Orchestra, culminating with a performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

To reach that level, he studies with prominent Anchorage music teacher and performer Nina Bingham, practicing for hours every week. So do the other members of the quartet

On the evening of the final dress rehearsal, the night before the ACO winter concert, the young violinists gathered with their teacher in the cramped green room beneath the Sydney Laurence. While the full orchestra rehearsed outside, the members of the quartet prepared for their debut, tuning instruments and practicing their bows and running through final sections of the violin concerto.

“Smile!” Bingham told her students. “No matter what happens, you have to smile.”

Part of a body of work known as “L’estro Armonico,” the violin concerto is one of Vivaldi’s more popular pieces and one of the first to be published outside of Italy, according to the ACO director. In his years as a teacher, Munger said he’s seen young players flock to Vivaldi, “Because he’s not that complicated, and you can fall in love with him right away.”

But for student musicians, the concerto for four violins can be technically difficult to put together, the director said. The finished product, created in a minor mode, plays with a tinge of melancholy. The opportunity to see teen violinists perform it at such a high level is relatively rare, Munger said.

“We thought that it was just so cool and so unique, we couldn’t not have them,” he said.

The Anchorage Civic Orchestra’s winter concert takes place at the Sydney Laurence Theatre Saturday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $14.75 - $23.50.

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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