Metro-East Living

Belleville Philharmonic presents Stars of Tomorrow concert

Nathan Hsu has been playing the cello for 11 years.
Nathan Hsu has been playing the cello for 11 years. Provided

The Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra invites you to a feast of musical flavors on Saturday, and it’s counting on three talented young musicians to add just the right spices.

The 21st Stars of Tomorrow Concert at the Lindenwood University-Belleville Auditorium will include music by Beethoven, Dvorak, Stravinsky, Grieg and Prokofiev.

“The pieces chosen showcase different aspects of the orchestra,” said Robert Charles Howard, conductor and music director of the Belleville Philharmonic. “The concert is planned like a meal, with different flavors.

“Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, written in 1810, has that feeling of nobility. Then we move forward in time when the great music was shifting from the European mainstream to Eastern Europe and Russia. The two vibrant pieces by Russian composers go together. Dvorak’s cello concerto is teeming with the folk music of Czechoslovakia and Grieg’s adds the vibrance and expressiveness of Norway.”

The three Stars of Tomorrow — cellist Nathan Hsu and pianists Olivia Long and Tong Zhao, all of St. Louis — will get the opportunity to showcase their talents with the Philharmonic.

Nathan Hsu will play Dvorak’s B minor Cello Concerto (1895).

“He is a terrific player with terrific teacher (Catherine Lehr Ramos), who has soloed with us twice,” Howard said. “The piece was written while Dvorak was in the United States, and he just learned that his sister-in-law died. It has a memorial flavor, but it’s not morbid. It’s deeply felt. Many people say this is the best concerto of all. Nathan does a great job with it. He is easy to work with, and I can talk to him as an adult. He has good suggestions.”

Olivia Long will play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (1912).

“It’s an example of neo-classicism, and has the feel of a Beethoven concerto,” Howard said. But the language is modern with strong orchestration. It’s a semi-humorous style. Though I have not had the chance to work with Olivia in person, I have heard her perform. She plays with a lot of vitality.”

Tong will play Grieg’s A minor Piano Concerto (1868).

“It’s one of the favorite piano concertos of all time. The orchestra went crazy over him. He is such a breath of fresh air. He is so accurate and plays with great flair.

“All three concertos explore the technical and coloristic possibilities of their instruments, and each of our talented soloists has risen to meet the challenges.”

Here’s how Howard describes the pieces the Philharmonic will play to open the concert.

▪  Egmont Overture — “Beethoven composed his incidental music to Goethe’s Egmont in 1809 and 1810. In the play, Egmont is sentenced to death for his vigorous opposition to oppression. Beethoven’s stirring music was warmly embraced by his audience and earned the admiration of Goethe himself. The music itself progresses from the grim harmonies of the opening chords through the heroic energy of the main body of the piece to the triumphal coda that celebrates the victory of freedom over oppression.”

▪  Firebird Suite (1919) — Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Ballet was premiered in Paris in 1910 and was the first of series of three ballets that he composed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. In the ballet’s story, the evil sorcerer Kastchei has enslaved a Russian village. A prince, Ivan, having found his way to the to the region, fights to rescue the victims including 13 princesses. The Firebird provides him with the secret to vanquishing Kastchei and casts a spell that allows Ivan to free the captives. The ballet concludes within the festive wedding celebration of Ivan and one of the princesses.

“We try to give out audience the most vital type of experience we can,” Howard said. “The music is very expressive. We’re trying to give the audience a couple of hours of enchanting music. I want them to come out and share the magic with us.”

At a glance

  • What: Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra Stars of Tomorrow Concert
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Place Lindenwood University-Belleville Auditorium, 2600 West Main St., Belleville
  • Tickets: Adult admissionis $18 at the door; $15 for 55-plus and active military; $10 for students

Stars of Tomorrow

  • Nathan Hsu, a junior at Ladue High School, has played cello for 11 years. He currently studies with Catherine Lehr Ramos. He has played three years with the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. He has also played in the Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis, participated in the Missouri All-State Orchestra, served as the principal cellist of his school orchestra, the YPCO and YPSO orchestras and winner of the YPSO concerto competition. He has also performed as a soloist with the Alton Symphony Orchestra, the CMS Orchestra and Town and Country Symphony.
  • Olivia Long, 17, a senior at John Burroughs High School in St. Louis, began playing piano at age 4 and was the piano solo winner of the Missouri Music Teachers Association State honors auditions for three consecutive years (2011-13). She won the Missouri Music Teachers National Association Senior Piano Duet Competition and first place in the 2014 American Protégé International Piano Competition, and performed at Carnegie Hall in New York. She was invited to perform in Vienna, Austria, at Ehrbar Hall and Mozarthaus in the Golden Key Music Festival in 2014. Olivia currently studies with Wen Shen.
  • Tong Zhao, 15, is a sophomore at Clayton High School. He studies piano with Laura Schindler, of St. Louis. Tong was ythe first-place trophy winner for solo piano in the MMTA State Piano Competition in both 6th and 8th grade. In 2015, Tong received the Alice B. Schindler Student Award, sponsored by the Rubinstein Music Club, performing music of Beethoven, Ligeti and Liszt. He was also the grand prize winner and overall winner in the University City Symphony Concerto Competition, He was was presented in recital on the Shepley Concert Series at Christ Church Cathedral as a gold medal winner in the prestigious St. Louis Area MTA Young Artist Piano Competition.
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