Spring break was an opportune time for The Harker School Orchestra, which traveled to Chicago to perform at the Chicago International Music Festival. Earlier this year, the orchestra was chosen to premiere a new piece by composer Jeremy Van Buskirk. The piece, titled “… such as I am you will be,” was one of three performed by the orchestra at the festival, along with Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2” and the fourth movement of “Symphony No. 5” by Dmitri Shostacovich.
The orchestra’s performance won a Gold Award and high praise from Deborah Gibbs, president and CEO of World Projects, the production company behind the festival, who declared The Harker Orchestra was the best high school orchestra she had ever heard. Chris Florio, upper school music teacher and director of the orchestra, was similarly enthused. “We have been preparing all year long for this event and I could not be more proud of how our students performed,” he said.
“The whole orchestra prepared by rehearsing every day in class since January, and as concertmaster, I feel very proud to lead and be part of such a hard-working and talented group,” said violinist Helen Wu, grade 11. “Every day without fail, regardless of whatever else we have going on, we always came together during first period to work and refine our music.”
Sahithya Prakash, grade 12, who plays bassoon, noticed changes in the orchestra’s practices as the concert neared. “As we got closer to our performance, our focus and intensity kept rising,” she said. “I felt really exhausted after each practice because I had put my 100% into playing, and I felt that the entire orchestra did too.”
Although Van Buskirk did not have a hand in selecting the orchestra that played his piece he was “extremely grateful they were chosen.” Premiering a new piece, he said, is a unique challenge for both the composer and an orchestra. “It’s a challenge to bring a new piece of art into the world for the first time,” he said. “As a composer, I can not do it by myself. I need willing and enthusiastic performers. Chris Florio and The Harker School Orchestra did an amazing job.”
While writing and refining his piece, Van Buskirk sent unfinished versions of it to the orchestra, who recorded their renditions and sent them back. He and Florio then discussed how the piece could be written to best fit the orchestra. “The students work hard and they are very musical,” Van Buskirk said. “It’s rare for a composer to have this level of access to a orchestra while writing a new piece. They met the challenge head on.”
Wu felt honored to premiere “…such as I am you will be,” calling it “remarkable musically and ideologically. Dr. Van Buskirk was a pleasure to work with, very involved in the creation of his piece and enthusiastic about rehearsing with us.”
For Prakash, being selected to premiere the piece served as validation for the positive feedback the orchestra receives from its director. “Mr. Florio keeps emphasizing how special the Harker Orchestra is and how talented we all are,” said Prakash, “and I think being chosen to premiere this piece made me realize that we really are a talented group of individuals.”