Bach masterpiece visits Westminster

     Johann Sebastian Bach’s collection of Brandenburg Concertos is usually reserved for performances by professional orchestras. However, on Oct. 3, Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 was brought to Westminster by hard-working orchestra students. 

     The concerto, along with the other Brandenburg concertos, was dedicated to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. Composed by renowned German baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach, the set of six Brandenburg concertos was officially dedicated on March 24, 1721.

     The piece consists of three solos, including a flute solo, played by senior Johnny Fang, a harpsichord solo, played by senior Kevin Chen, and a violin solo, played by sophomore Toby Liu. The concerto was also accompanied by a string orchestra.

     The concerto was part of one of the orchestra’s many concerts throughout the year. It was overseen by Upper School performing arts directors Linda Cherniavsky and Scott Stewart. Stewart conducted the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, while Cherniavsky conducted the rest of the concert.  

     “It really was a great honor to perform one of the greatest pieces in music history,” said Stewart. “Most schools would not attempt a piece of repertoire this challenging.” 

     In preparation for the concert, the Upper School orchestra and selected soloists practiced for several weeks. Stewart, who teaches both the Upper School orchestra and band classes, helped facilitate the in-class rehearsals along with the separate rehearsals for the trio of soloists. The rehearsal process was lengthy, with each soloist practicing on their own for about a month, then practicing as a trio with the rest of the soloists. The orchestra also rehearsed for about seven weeks prior to the concert.

     The soloists all have years of practice, with Liu having played the violin for nine years and Chen having played piano since 1st grade. The soloists have to log many hours of practice to maintain their peak performance. 

     “I try to get a couple hours a day, but it usually goes up on the weekends,” said Liu. 

     Liu’s estimate of his practice schedule refers to how often he practiced before learning of the concerto. However, the performers had to work even harder in preparation for the concert. 

     “[The orchestra] got the music about three or four weeks before the concert, and Johnny, Kevin, and I have been working on the music for a couple of weeks as well,” said Liu. 

     The soloists were selected through an audition process that allowed them to practice some excerpts of the piece beforehand. 

     “I was approached by Ms. Cherniavsky about doing it last year, and we talked about doing it this year, so I kind of got a headstart on practicing for it,” said Chen.

     Because of the difficult nature of the piece, the soloists and the orchestra classes went about practicing for it in a variety of methods. 

     “I listened to recordings on Youtube to hear what other people had done so far,” said Chen. “After that, I kind of had to think about how to incorporate my style into the piece.” 

     Chen, who normally plays piano, had the added challenge of playing a harpsichord for the concerto. Because Westminster rented the instrument, Chen also had a more limited preparation period. 

     “It’s a lot different because with the harpsichord you’re actually plucking the strings, whereas with the piano it’s like a mallet hitting the strings,” said Chen. “It’s also generally a lot smaller, so you have to adjust to that too.”

     The concert was a perfect opportunity for students who love performing to showcase their talents and the fruits of their arduous labors. 

     “I’ve been performing for a while, ever since I was really little,” said Liu. “I’ve always loved performing; it’s been the thing I’ve really liked about playing my instrument.” Toby has been performing since he was six years old and takes as many opportunities, such as school talent shows, to perform. 

     “My favorite part of performing is probably the adrenaline,” said Chen. “Obviously, there are some nerves but there’s also a lot of excitement.” 

     Stewart, Chen, and Liu all attributed their enjoyment in participating in the concert to being able to perform with other players or students. 

     “My favorite part of the performing process was probably being able to work with my fellow classmates,” said Liu “I also enjoyed the opportunity to make music with people I spend time with on a daily basis and having the opportunity to share music with each other.” 

     For Chen, the best part was getting to play with friends. Stewart also described how he cherished the opportunity to work with talented musicians at Westminster. 

     “It was a joy to be able to work with the members of the orchestra and the soloists,” said Stewart. “Toby, Kevin, and Johnny are really some of the top high school level musicians in the state of Georgia.”  

     Although the process was long and difficult for everyone involved, the concert is one that brought members of the Westminster community together for a night of wonderful music.