The CSI Orchestra Performs in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall.

Young orchestra students from across Staten Island performed their end-of-semester CSI Orchestra concert at the Center for the Arts Springer Concert Hall on Dec. 9. The concert was part of a semester-long African American Composers Project.

During the fall semester, the Orchestra students received sectional instruction in a side-by-side performance format from the professional musicians of the Staten Island Philharmonic. This unique personalized instruction experience provided these students with an exceptional opportunity to enhance their musical abilities. The program was sponsored by a Humanities New York Action Grant and the concert was also funded by a generous grant from the Frank & Lydia Bergen Foundation, which secured this distinctive instructional opportunity.

The event featured Jeffrey Sun, a 19-year-old student of Wenyi Lo, who performed Mozart’s G Major violin concerto. Jeffrey, currently a freshman at NYU, is the First-Prize winner, high school division, of the 2018 CSI Performance Competition for Strings. His performance was enthusiastically received by an appreciative audience. Pianist Joshua Pierce, a prolific recording artist who has recorded and performed with world-renowned orchestras, gave a fine performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” This work was complemented by an arrangement of the composer’s “An American in Paris.” Concluding this program was Joplin’s Original Rag. The concert was a culmination of a semester-long effort to mentor Orchestra students on the heritage, history, and culture of African Americans. Students read literature, examined video footage, and completed assessments related to themes of African Americans, such as slavery and non-Western culture. Students learned about the contributions of African Americans through a holistic approach, meant to educate them on a wide array of themes – with music serving as the connective tissue. Guests who helped students explore these themes included CSI Associate Dean and Chief Librarian Amy Stempler, who examined the African American history of Staten Island.

The CSI Orchestra was founded in 2013 through a collaboration between the College of Staten Island and Curtis High School. Its mission is to provide opportunities for orchestral performance by young people on the Island through exposure to the rich repertoire of the symphony, while being directed and mentored by professional musicians. The CSI Orchestra is a College course, open to all CSI students, as well as community members. It also offers the possibility for high school students to receive college credit through the CSI/CUNY College Now program.

This is the first orchestral program of its kind offered on Staten Island. In addition to Curtis High School, many other schools from across the Borough participate in this unique program, including Port Richmond High School, New Dorp High School, Staten Island Academy, Staten Island Tech High School, Tottenville High School, and IS 61. The co-directors of the CSI Orchestra are Dr. Dan Auerbach, Professor of Music, College of Staten Island, and James Minenna, Professor of Music, Curtis High School.

The CSI Orchestra serves a specific mission, to enable students to receive a comprehensive musical education. Many of the participating students could not otherwise afford such personalized musical instruction. “These young students deserve a musical education and I am just glad that we received the necessary funding from Humanities New York and the Frank & Lydia Bergen Foundation to keep their dreams alive,” commented Dr. Auerbach. “I am looking forward to next semester’s concert featuring the winners of the 2019 CSI Performance Competition for Strings, showcasing the hard work and dedication of both Staten Island students and their teachers,” Auerbach noted. The strings competition is also funded by Strings and Other Things, a Manhattan-based music business.

The CSI Performance Competition for Strings, a sister project of the CSI Orchestra, is an initiative developed by the CSI Music Program to recognize the excellent musical education that is provided by the experienced string teachers in the Staten Island area. These dedicated educators help motivate young people to develop their artistic and musical talent. The CSI Performance Competition for Strings provides an opportunity to showcase the musical talents of their students, which are a direct result of their committed efforts, and is designed to provide a solo performance platform for students who are Staten Island residents. The Competition is offered every year as a comprehensive event for all instruments, in two categories: for middle school students (Grades 6 through 8) and high school students (Grades 9 through 12). There are cash prizes and trophies, as well as citations for exceptional musicianship and artistry. First-Prize winners in each category are invited to perform as soloists with the CSI Orchestra. The third annual CSI Performance Competition for Strings is scheduled for April 6, 2019.

The CSI Performance Competition for Strings receives funding through sponsorships provided by members of the CSI Administration, the Performing and Creative Arts Department at CSI, the Frank & Lydia Bergen Foundation, and Strings & Other Things in Manhattan. Next semester’s CSI Orchestra concert will again feature CSI Orchestra students accompanied by professional musicians from the Richmond County Orchestra. Beanna Dzhaniashvili, the middle school winner of the 2018 CSI Performance Competition for Strings, and a violin student of Roman Berlinsky, will rehearse and perform Vivaldi’s A Minor violin concerto with the CSI Orchestra on May 5, 2019 at Springer Concert Hall at CSI, Building 1P. Other works will include classical favorites and a pops selection.