Symphony Orchestra Evokes Sunlight, Mythical Forests, and Mahler’s 5th at Orchestra Hall

With the buzz of anticipation in the air, Symphony Orchestra took the stage at Symphony Center’s Orchestra Hall on Sunday, November 19 for their first concert of the year. From start to finish, students shined under the baton of Music Director Allen Tinkham.

The concert opened with remarks from Executive Director Jennie Oh Brown who thanked the crowd for their support and acknowledged the many alumni in the audience, always a wonderful moment for a concert that falls as many recent grads are home from college for Thanksgiving break.

Students opened the show with the Chicago premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’ Sunburst, a piece recently commissioned by the Tampa Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. The piece lived up to its name, with lilting, airy passages passed around the ensemble, evoking sunlight streaming across the sky. Thomas was on hand for the premiere, joining Maestro Tinkham on stage immediately following the piece, and graciously acknowledging the musicians and the crowd.

Illinois Council of Orchestras representative Christina Salerno next presented two 2023 awards—the first for Programming of the Year was in recognition of CYSO’s 2021-2022 season. Salerno highlighted our Listen to the Future Composer in Residence project as well as the diverse array of works performed by all CYSO ensembles. Next, she presented the Cultural Leadership Award, for which CYSO posthumously nominated Associate Conductor Terrance Malone Gray, who passed away in June 2022. Salerno spoke of Gray’s important role in many Chicago-area ensembles, both as a teacher, founder, and performer. Maestro Tinkham accepted the award on Gray’s behalf and evoked the beloved conductor’s familiar laugh and unmatched dedication to his students and the entire music community of Chicago.

Next, Jazz Orchestra Director Pharez Whitted presented CYSO’s 2023 Alumni Award to 2017 alum Jahari Stampley. Stampley was a member of Jazz Orchestra’s inaugural season in 2016-2017 and Whitted spoke of the pianist’s already impressive career, including his recent win at the Herbie Hancock International Jazz Competition—”No small thing,” according to Whitted. Stampley accepted the award with a speech that brought multiple rounds of applause from the audience, saying that he accepted on behalf of “the people before me who couldn’t be here today” and the CYSO community, “the people who keep the dreams of my generation, and those before me, alive.” Stampley is about to embark on his first US tour, kicking off with performances at Chicago’s Chopin Theater and City Winery in December and January.

Following the awards presentation, students performed Debussy’s ethereal Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, a piece based on a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé that was eventually turned into a ballet. Though Debussy had originally intended to write more than just a prelude, the piece stands on its own evoking misty forest scenes and the mischievous faun of Greek mythology. The performance was enhanced by beautiful playing from Symphony Orchestra co-principal flute Destina Sarussi.

After intermission, students embarked on the biggest moment of the evening—Mahler’s famous Symphony no 5. Clocking in at over an hour, the piece portrays contrasts of light and dark, evoking a range of emotion from the heights of joy to the depths of despair. Co-principal horn Hayden Joyce performed the third movement horn solo center stage with confidence. Maestro Tinkham led the orchestra through the symphony’s epic movements, eliciting a huge standing ovation from the crowd as it concluded in triumph.

Thank you to everyone who cheered on our students both in person and from afar on the livestream. Stay tuned for more photos from the performance soon!

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