The West Shore Symphony Orchestra will present its Spring Masterworks Concert, “Sounds of Our World, Past, Present, Future” at the Pollock Performing Arts Center in Camp Hill at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The concert will feature Edvard Grieg’s beautiful Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16, performed by Hershey High School pianist, JT Mullins, the winner of the orchestra’s inaugural Concerto Competition.
JT Mullins, now a junior in high school, has been playing piano since he was 5 years old. In the early years he took lessons with Boyd Cedel, but now he studies with Eun Ae Baik-Kim, a professor at Dickinson College who also has a studio in Hershey.
It was Baik-Kim who brought up the idea of applying to the concerto competition, and at first, he wasn’t so sure. “It seemed like a lot of work and I’m really busy,” he said. “But in the end, I decided to take it on for a fun challenge.”
Mullins said he had played a “kiddie” version of the Grieg Piano Concerto when he was in middle school, but had a lot of trouble playing the opening section. “I remember Boyd telling me that I had to wait until my hands got bigger before I could play it,” he said. “When I heard about the competition I figured it was time.”
This is the first time that Mullins has played with an orchestra, and he says that he likes the experience. “The Grieg is meant to be played with an orchestra, and when I practice it by myself, it seems a little hollow,” he said. “When I’m playing with the group, it feels much more complete. I can also hear myself better as the piano really cuts through.”
He says he has also enjoyed working with the orchestra’s conductor, Jennifer Wiley. They would meet before rehearsals and plan out what they were going to work on.
“I think the relationship with Dr. Wylie on stage was very much cooperative,” he said. “I feel that she and I have equal parts. She looks at me to set the tempos, and I need her to direct the orchestra.”
A highlight of the Grieg concerto is the cadenza that Mullins performs during the end of the piece. Although he has trained as a classical musician, he also plays jazz, and this section of the concerto allows him to show off his improvisation skills.
“I think this cadenza is gorgeous. It’s like one of my favorite things to play ever,” he said. “I’m completely free, and there are no measure numbers. I just get to play it how I think it should be played.
It’s rare to meet a young person so talented and confident on stage, but Mullins says he has had a tremendous amount of support. He is also an accomplished trombone and baritone player, and he’s thankful to his high school band teacher Jonathan Pinkerton and orchestra teacher Gregory Woodbridge. “But most importantly I have to thank my mother, Sun Mullins,” he said.
The concert will also feature students from Eagle View Middle School in Silver Spring Township and Francis C. Hammond Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia. Those students will participate in Benjamin Britten’s Courtly Dances from his “Gloriana” suite. The audience is also invited to join the orchestra in the music-making process on Tan Dun’s “Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds” by downloading the “bird sounds” track from its website, www.westshoresymphony.org to your cellphone and play along.
Other works include Movement I from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6., “Pastoral,” and Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome.
Wiley will presents a pre-concert talk at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, providing musical and historical background on the composers and compositions featured in the concert.
The orchestra will also play an admission-free family concert at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pollock Performing Arts Center. The center is located at 340 N. 21st St., in Camp Hill.
Tickets for the Sunday concert are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and free for children 12 and younger, and are available at the door or online at www.westshoresymphony.org.