BATAVIA — The Genesee Symphony Orchestra may be 68 years old, but it’s going with a youth movement for its first concert of the 2015-16 season.
The GSO’s annual Fall Festival will kick off the season at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Stuart Steiner Theatre at Genesee Community College. What is most notable about the show is that it will feature the group’s 2015 Young Artist Competition winner Raymond Feng, 13, and guest conductor S. Shade Zajac, 21. That means that many of the orchestra’s musicians have performed with the group longer than the two guests have been alive.
What is also notable is the achievements the two guests have amassed at their young ages.
Feng, a freshman at Pittsford Sutherland High School near Rochester, has been performing internationally since he was 9 with groups such as the Ashdod Symphony in Perugia, Italy and the Hochstein Youth Orchestra in Rochester. The pianist has also racked up an impressive résumé of competition victories. Along with winning the GSO Young Artist Competition, he has also won piano competitions at Nazareth and Ithaca colleges, as well as concerto competitions with the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra and the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra.
“I’m really excited to be able to perform with the (GSO),” Feng said following the group’s rehearsal on Monday. “This is my first time coming to Batavia, so I’m excited to share my music with the community here.”
Zajac is one of four guest conductors auditioning this year for the vacant conductor position with the GSO. He is also the youngest.
A recent graduate of Nazareth College with a degree in cello performance, Zajac already has conducing experience, having led his school’s Chamber and Symphony orchestras. He is also the assistant/rehearsal conductor for the Finger Lakes Symphony Orchestra.
“In this business, it’s hard being a young conductor,” he said. “Some people don’t take you seriously. I tried out for some graduate schools and they told me ‘You’re extremely talented, but we just went with the older person.’ They’ll take a 34-year-old over a 21-year-old in a heartbeat.”
Together, the two have helped craft a concert that should provide a balanced mix of light classical music. Feng will perform the concert’s opening piece, Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto.” Also featured will be Eric Whitacre’s “October,” NIkolai Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Procession of the Nobles” and “Capriccio Espangnol,” Aaron Copeland’s “Quiet City” and Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances.”
Grieg’s “Piano Concerto” is the piece Feng played to win the Young Artist Competition.
While Feng also plays violin, he says he is more focused on the piano.
“I like how versatile it is,” he said. “It has such a big range and can create such a wide variety of sounds. I can really express what I want to share with the audience.”
Performing with Feng was one of the facets that drew Zajac to conduct the first concert of the season.
“I’m excited about doing the first concert, because I don’t like waiting. I can’t wait for it,” he said. “I love working with soloists. It’s so hard being an orchestral musician and accompanying a soloist, because you have to play at the appropriate dynamic. I think it’s one of the hardest things to do in orchestra. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to work with (Feng).”
Zajac will also lead a 15-minute, pre-concert chat with the audience from 3:15 to 3:30 p.m.
“The chat is also a way for our concert-goers to have a chance to interact with Shade, to get acquainted with his personality,” said Roxie Choate, GSO’s personnel manager.
Tickets for the show are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $7 for students, and $35 for families and are available at the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council, Roxy’s Music Store, Batavia Senior Center, the Bank of Castile in Le Roy, and the GCC ticket office.