Issue 6, Volume 113
By Zoe Buff
Come for Tchaikovsky. Stay for Rococo. Be blown away by Saint-Saëns! It is the golden era of Stuyvesant’s student musicians, and for the first time ever, the winter concert is a triple threat.
Since the 1980s, it has been a Stuyvesant tradition for seniors in orchestra, band, or chorus to perform a solo piece with the fifth period Symphonic Orchestra. If a senior asks to perform and there is space in the concert, orchestra teacher Joseph Tamosaitis adds them to the program. Students who receive this honor have distinguished themselves as advanced musicians, and, more often than not, they are also section leaders. “It’s a great thing to be able to present talented students in challenging repertoire and show them off,” said Tamosaitis. In the past, there has only been one soloist per concert.
This time, there are three soloists: violinist Isaac Lageschulte, cellist Felix Harkness, and pianist Gitae Park. The challenging repertoire includes the first movement of the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto in G minor, the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello, and, as a small feature for the orchestra, the Pas De Deux from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. The winter concert, which will be held on December 16 in the Murray Kahn Theater, is the first Senior Spotlight concert that Stuyvesant has ever seen.
Isaac Lageschulte fell in love with the violin at three years old. “I walked into school at nine o’clock and I saw musicians playing, and I told my parents I wanted to do that,” he said. At six years old, Lageschulte began taking lessons with Anna Faynberg Basis at the exclusive Special Music School (SMS) and eventually studied under Viktor Basis. As a violinist, violist, and composer, Lageschulte has devoted much of his life to classical music. “It’s kind of a little reprieve and it’s a whole different world,” he said.
Lageschulte became the co-concertmaster of the Stuyvesant Symphonic Orchestra in his junior year, but this is his first time playing a solo with an orchestra. After seeing Stuyvesant alum Lucas Amory (‘20) perform the first movement of the Mozart Piano Concerto no. 25 as a solo with the orchestra, Lageschulte made it his goal to do the same. When the time came to choose which piece to play, there was only one option: the violin concerto of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Lageschulte’s favorite composer. “I’ve listened to it since I was eight,” he said. He would dance to the first movement in his living room, and when Basis agreed to teach it to him, he was ecstatic. The piece reflects characteristics of a ballet orchestral accompaniment with “beautiful melodies that work themselves up in a frenzy, only to calm again,” as Lageschulte described.
Felix Harkness also started out on violin. His parents wanted him to study music, and he even considered the piano. “I liked the idea of pressing a lot of buttons,” he joked. He started learning the cello at age four, and when he moved from Chicago to New York, he began studying at the reputable School for Strings with Alex Croxton. Harkness says classical music grew on him once he started taking music lessons in theory, chamber music, and orchestra.
When Harkness came to Stuyvesant, he had been playing cello for 10 years, so the Symphonic Orchestra was a natural path for him. By his junior year, he was the principal cellist, the highest seat in the section. Like Lageschulte, he had not played as a soloist with an orchestra before, and his first impression of the senior solo tradition was also Amory’s piano concerto. “It looked like it would be a cool experience,” he said. For his solo, he wanted to pick a standalone piece, rather than a first movement of a cello concerto, which, unlike the 20-30 minute first movements of violin concertos, are usually short. His favorite part of the “Variations on a Rococo Theme” is the seventh and last variation, which he described as “a rush of excitement.” The rapid dialogue of fast notes between the soloist and orchestra, coupled with the soloist’s octaves, creates a dramatic yet rambunctious ending. As Tchaikovsky himself said, “Rococo” means “a carefree feeling of well-being,” and Harkness likes that the piece embraces its name.
The final soloist, Gitae Park, started learning piano at the age of four, taking lessons at the Blair School of Music in Nashville. His musical journey continued at Shanghai Conservatory, one of the most advanced music programs in China, before he moved to New York and began studying at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music (MSM) Precollege under Jeffrey Cohen. “I have always enjoyed piano and listening to classical music,” he said.
Park first became involved with the Stuy music community when he joined Liliya Shamazov’s Oratorio Chorus as an accompanist. “I wanted to find a way to be able to contribute to the Stuy community,” he said. He too was inspired by Amory’s performance.
In selecting his piece, Park figured it would be most meaningful to perform the first movement of the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto in G minor—the piece he won the MSM Philharmonic Piano Concerto Competition with. “There’s a lot of beautiful parts to the piece, like the cadenza,” Park said. A cadenza is the virtuosic “show-off” portion of the piece, when the soloist plays without orchestra accompaniment. For Park’s piece, that includes cascading chords, impressively fast notes, and a heart-wrenching minor tune. “I also love the octave parts when the orchestra comes rushing in with the melody,” he said. “It’s really dramatic.” With its tension and anticipation, the piece has the characteristics of an opera, which makes it a nice complement to the more ballet-like Tchaikovsky solos.
Featuring three soloists in the winter concert does not come without its challenges. Since the Symphonic Orchestra lacks the full set of wind and brass instruments that these pieces call for, Lageschulte has had to practice with them after school hours, but the process of preparing for the concert has been a rewarding experience for all three seniors. “It’s really fun playing with an orchestra and getting the full experience of the original music,” Lageschulte said. He hopes that anyone with a classical music tooth—especially for Tchaikovsky—will “come to the concert!”