Author: Clark Scally
An open seat was hard to find this past Sunday as numerous local children and their families crowded into Thorne Hall alongside many alumni and art patrons. The Santa Cecilia Orchestra performed on Feb. 10, featuring famed conductor Sonia Marie De León de Vega and progressive pianist Bryan Pezzone. Aside from the volunteers, there was a noticeable absence of young adult attendees.
The show presented a dazzling lineup of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, as well as Opus 70, which were all outlined in bilingual pamphlets handed out to each visitor.
Pianist Bryan Pezzone performed first, backed by the entire orchestra. Although string instruments comprised the majority of the orchestra, percussion and wind instruments perfectly complemented them. The overall sound was flawless and fluid, in keeping with the modern refinement of Gershwin. The musicians ranged from 60 to no older than 20, making for a diverse assembly of aptitude. Most of them smiled and laughed throughout the show when they were not intently focused on playing their part.
Pezzone, however, stole the show with his jazz performance and magnificent stage presence. Described in his biography as “the consummate crossover pianist of his generation,” Pezzone is exceptionally accomplished in classical, contemporary, jazz and other musical genres. Featured with symphony orchestras across the nation as well as with recording artists on movie soundtracks such as “The Kite Runner” and “The Bucket List,” Pezzone’s reputation helped draw crowds on Sunday. From the moment his fingers touched the keys, his entire body unceasingly bounced and shook throughout the performance.
After intermission, the show resumed with de Vega leading the orchestra to play the music of Dvorák. While less upbeat and far less contemporary, the second half of the show had an undeniable stately beauty.
De Vega herself is an extraordinary musician. According to her biography in the concert program, “she was the first woman in history to receive a Vatican invitation to conduct a symphony orchestra at Papal Mass.” Her list of accolades as a groundbreaking Hispanic woman in the past decades filled the rest of the page.
Through her efforts with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, de Vega has also sponsored charity for children. The orchestra undertakes major community outreach to the greater Los Angeles area by bringing in instruments and performing demonstrations to 16 different small, low-income schools every year.
De Vega described how the orchestra tries to get future generations excited about classical music. “Audiences are dying out for classical music. We do all our own publicity,” de Vega said. “What we do is we invite all the children, and they drag their parents in by the arm. They all end up loving it.”
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