YoungArts Finalists Reimagine Your Favorite Songs Into Classical Music

Initially, the classical music concert held at New World Center last Thursday during YoungArts Week felt a bit like the most elegant high-school recital ever conceived. However, very quickly it became clear that this was no ordinary performance and these were, in fact, extraordinary teenagers.

Every year, thousands of budding artists in multiple disciplines from all over the country send applications to the National YoungArts Foundation, located in Edgewater. YoungArts selects a few hundred winners and awards them cash prizes, mentorships, networking opportunities, and entrance into its renowned programs. The crown jewel of this process is National YoungArts Week, when finalists are given the opportunity to shine in front of their peers and the general public in the fields of design, literary arts, visual arts, and performing arts.

This year, YoungArts sifted through 12,000 applications, awarded 819 young artists, and whittled that number down to 165 finalists. During the Classical Music Concert, Miami was treated to 23 of the nation's best young classical musicians.

Despite the room being filled almost entirely with parents, students, and teachers, there was nothing dry or stuffy about the affair. For example, after seeing the same intro video four or five times, the audience, eager to get the show going, began miming certain parts and singing along to others, setting a celebratory tone that remained throughout the show.

The concert hall at New World Center, home to the New World Symphony, is modern and slick, painted white and allowing for multiple moods to be created via clever lighting. The acoustics absorbed and relayed every cough, every violin plink, every piano note clearly and brightly. It was an ideal setting to listen to these musicians. Microphones hung from the ceiling, but there’s a good chance they weren’t in use, so instead, the audience got to hear each artist and his or her chosen instrument in their purest, most natural state.

Although the age range of the YoungArts musicians falls somewhere between 15 and 18 years old, they were, in every sense, professionals. 

The opening number, "Trio for Oboe, Clarinet, and Piano," by French composer Edouard Destenay, sounded like a sad warning of doom. The three-piece performing the number — Anastasia Magamedova (piano), Kip Zimmerman (oboe), and Yijin Wang (clarinet) — were animated and emphatic in their performance, a trend that continued with each and every performer that followed.

Even when the recorders came out (yes, that instrument we were all forced to purchase and pretend to learn in elementary school), the energy didn’t drop. The duo of Martin Bernstein and Laura Michael nailed a soft but vibrant piece that sounded like two rabbits playfully chasing each other.

As the program continued, YoungArts' trademark weirdness emerged. Both of the pieces prior to the intermission were odd, unexpected treats. The first, an original composition by YoungArts winner Alexander Yakub, was murder music more psychotic than the theme from Psycho. Choppy, grating, and unnerving, his "Rondo Ghironda for Piano Quintet" was a chilling, horror film lullaby composed for the symphony and a cool, unexpected twist of classical traditions.

The subsequent piece, "Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano," by Pierre Jalbert, felt like the sequel to the prior nightmare (although it was conceived in 1998.) Another Hitchcockian nod to film scores, it created a pervasive paranoia. A hatchet-wielding madman was liable to spring from the innards of Adria Ye’s piano at any moment. The facial expressions of her partners — violinist Katherine Woo and cellist Zlatomir Fung — were as intense as the music.

After intermission, the second half of the concert’s program listed better-known names, such as Brahms, Dvorak, and Mozart. Perhaps the most famous composer of all time, Mozart, and his "Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448," began the concert's final hour. It was a turbulent, whirlwind of a duet that at times felt like a polite battle between pianists Adrian Liao and Hana Mizuta.

There was another interesting but different dynamic among the members of the next group. For "Horn Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 40," the threesome of violinist Aubree Oliverson, French horn player Elisabeth Pesavento, and pianist Derek Wang were all in sync, but it was Oliverson and Wang who seemed especially infatuated with each other. It made for an endearing and powerful performance, brimming with confidence and joy.

The third postintermission act brought out another duo, Torin Bakke on clarinet and Nicholas Arrendondo on contrabass. Theirs was a more downtempo piece that then found its groove. Their rendition of Hindemith’s "Musikalisches Blumengärtlein und Leyptziger Allerley" exhibited a whimsicality that sounded like a hobbit's dangerous journey through Middle-earth or a chase scene from a Harry Potter film.

The last official piece, "Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 90," featured Geneva Lewis on violin, Derek Louie on cello, and Everen Ozel on piano. The speed, ferocity, and passion they pumped out was exhilarating.

These "kids" embarrass their teenage brethren. The YoungArts finalists in music showcased how adept they are at capturing moods and expertly finessing both heart and violin strings.

Still, they are teenagers, and teenagers like to have fun.

The final example of how YoungArts rigorously helps to prepare these future stars in their respective subjects yet allows plenty of room for individual personality came when all 23 performers triumphantly returned to the stage, wearing neon hats and sunglasses, for a surprise encore. Led by Yakub, wearing a pimp outfit complete with a cane and giant gold necklace, they covered three of 2015’s biggest hits: the Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face,” Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.” They got the crowd out of their seats, ready the eventual standing ovation. 
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Angel Melendez is an unabashed geek and a massive music nerd. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University and an accomplished failure at two other universities, Angel is a lush and an insufferable know-it-all, and has way better taste in music than you.
Contact: Angel Melendez