By Jenny Neyman
Staging a Link Up concert between the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, elementary school students and Carnegie Hall is a big undertaking, akin, it might feel, to the distance between the peninsula and Carnegie Hall in New York City. But one with big results, not unlike the work/reward of practicing, then performing a challenging yet thrilling piece of music.
That’s just one of the lessons that comes from the Link Up program — that music is worth the work.
“This is the second one we’ve done,” said Tammy Vollom-Matturro, director of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. “It was fantastic last year, we had our biggest audience of our lives — over 900 people in that auditorium. It was a huge, positive response all around the board.”
Link Up is an educational outreach program through Carnegie Hall, which has elementary school students learning songs to sing and play on the recorder, to perform with a bona fide, grown-up orchestra. In this case, students from Soldotna, Kenai, Ninilchik and Anchor Point schools will perform with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra on Friday and Saturday, against a backdrop linked up via videoconference with Carnegie Hall.
Each of the three Link Up programs available have a different theme. Last year’s KPO Link Up program was “The Orchestra Sings.” This year is “The Orchestra Moves.”
“In all of these pieces, the underlying theme is movement — the melodies move, people move to the music and the music moves you, so all these pieces depict movement,” Vollom-Matturro said.
The program will include the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” Strauss’ “Blue Danube” waltz, the “Toreador” song from “Carmen,” and “Nocturne” from Mendelssohn. And, of course, given the movement theme, a can-can.
“All these great pieces, it’s really a fun show,” Vollom-Matturro said.
Some are performed by just the orchestra, with interpretive information on screen and via emcee Marc Berezin. Others will have the assistance of the students. The program offers something for the young and seasoned musicians. For the students, there’s the excitement of being part of such a big, official, yet fun concert. For the orchestra musicians, it’s the appeal of encouraging young musicians, yet not having to play “kid music” to do it.
“That’s what drew in the musicians. One musician wasn’t going to play the concert — they were just really busy — until they heard what we were playing, then they said, ‘Oh my gosh, ‘Marriage of Figaro?’ I’m playing!’ It satisfies the musicians musically, because we are playing some really meaty pieces. And then they get to see how it all pulls together and they’re a part of it and providing this opportunity to the kids.”
The opportunity isn’t one taken lightly. It’s a challenging undertaking, not only getting the central-peninsula-flung orchestra members together in Ninilchik for rehearsals, but checking in on the music classes at the five participating schools as they prepare for the concert, coordinating the Link Up concert enhancement materials from Carnegie, tweaking the emcee script to fit the performances, and all the other tasks involved in staging and promoting a performance.
“It’s an overwhelming project but it’s rewarding because it totally fits our mission to provide music education on the peninsula,” Vollom-Matturro said.
And it’s not just education for the students. Vollom-Matturro said that there’s a lot in store for audiences, as well.
“It’s a fun concert for all ages, very interactive with visuals for younger people and people with more experienced ear. It’ll be good for all across the board,” she said.
The concerts are free and open to the public, and also include members of the Homer Youth String Orchestra Club and students of Mellisa Nill and Emily Grossman. Performances at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School, and 3 p.m. Sunday in Mariner Theater at Homer High School.