Photo credit to @menloatherton_orchestra on Instagram
Sitting in a dark theater, the audience waits in suspense. Then the red curtains are pulled back, the stage glows beneath the shining lights, and the music begins. It echoes off the walls and out into the halls, growing to a beautiful fever pitch.
On Monday, January 30th, M-A held its annual Middle School Exchange Concert, featuring performances from the M-A music program and talented groups from feeder middle schools La Entrada and Hillview. Unlike other shows, M-A music program director Kent Kurrus described it as “90 minutes of no yapping and lots of music.” Each ensemble played for ten minutes. Soloists and smaller musical groups provided chamber music in between.
The tradition began after Kurrus took his position at M-A 13 years ago. “I wanted to do an exchange concert with the middle schools as a way to recruit students to my program,” he said. As for the unique format, “I got tired of the standard, ‘You play and then you wait for several minutes,’ so I decided to inject chamber music into it.”
The La Entrada Orchestra began the show with the thrilling “March Momentous” and continued to excite throughout their performance.
Junior Carmel Goraly played a flawless cello solo while the Hillview Concert Band and Orchestra set up behind the curtains. Hillview’s dramatic pieces were punctuated with crashing percussion that left audience members thrilled.
Sophomore Lia Lev serenaded the crowd above the sounds of sophomore Benji Weiss’ soothing piano in “Georgia On My Mind” before the award-winning M-A Orchestra lived up to their reputation with tantalizing pieces full of swelling crescendos and sorrowful harmonies.
Junior Ailon Goraly’s violin solo of Bach’s “Loure” was a notable performance in its own right that spoke to his musical expertise.
The La Entrada Concert Band followed with spectacular musical moments complete with (objectively awesome) clashing cymbals.
During the interlude, sophomore Joshua Pfistner and junior Carson Sanie conversed in jazzy tunes with their trombones while Weiss accompanied on piano.
The M-A Concert Band matched the night’s gusto with an especially exciting rendition of “The Fives Prevail,” which featured a stark but fitting contrast between the airy flutes and the resonant tubas.
You would be hard-pressed to find a symphony as effortlessly talented as M-A’s String Quartet that followed. The musical group played sweet layered melodies in perfect unison, leaving the audience awestruck.
Hillview’s Jazz Band nailed its soulful “Blues in the Closet” and showed off their skill with the demanding yet flawlessly executed “Angel.”
Senior Jackson Bryman’s voice smoothly blended with the M-A Jazz Combo before the La Entrada Jazz Band took to the stage with passionate songs that included a variety of solos that had the crowd cheering.
Junior Wilona Chen shone beneath the lights with her effervescent and delightfully haunting violin solo.
The M-A Jazz Band III then performed a smashing execution of “Who Walks In When I Walk Out” with vocalists Bryman and senior Ryann Barnes. Seniors Evan Wong, Hugo Ingelsson, and Junior Kassayan each performed a solo on saxophone. Finally, they concluded the show with “Tall Cotton,” featuring another trombone solo by Pfistner. By the end of the song, the band even got a few audience members to start snapping along in jazzy rhythm. The ensuing applause was the loudest sound of the night, ending the extraordinary concert on just the right note.
After the performances, Kurrus said, “By far, this is probably the most work that goes into a concert during the year. But when you see the energy here, especially before the concert and the room’s full of middle school kids, there’s a raw energy you just can’t duplicate.”
Senior Asher Winikoff said, “We’ve got to play at the best level we can and we absolutely topped it this time. I got to see some of my old directors and I got to hear all of the songs that I played before. It’s really nice to have the ability to reflect on that.”
Junior Caleb Travers said, “This was one of our best concerts of the year. It was cool to see the progression through the ages and to see the charts that we played and former band directors; it was cool to come full circle.”
Kurrus said, “I’m just intensely happy with how my kids did, and I think they send the right message to the kids that might be considering coming here: if they want music, this is the place to be.”