The winners of the Al Navaroli Young Musicians may just be 14 and 15, but when the conductor raises his baton, the two young men begin to play, music ensues and age no longer matters.
Winners Ben Jackson, 14, of Morgan Hill and Yuki Mizuno, 15, of San Jose will each perform solos with the entire 45-member South Valley Symphony orchestra at Saturday’s “Music for the Young and Young at Heart” performance at Gavilan College Theater. Maestro Anthony Quartuccio, music director for the symphony will be conducting the performances.
“Working with these young virtuosos is incredibly inspiring and validating,” said Quartuccio, who was also a judge in the competition. “More specifically, their passion, dedication and enthusiasm remind us adult musicians why classical music is so relevant and exciting in our modern lives.”
Jackson is the violin soloist for this Saturday’s performance. The Sobrato High School freshman, with his shaggy blonde hair and bright blue eyes is pleased to be one of the two winners of this year’s competition.
“I’m really excited but at the same time I’m really nervous,” he said, smiling to reveal a mouth full of braces.
But at a recent rehearsal with the South Valley Symphony, as Jackson’s violin raised to sit comfortably beneath his chin, the music that came out was beyond his 14 years of age. His performance, Concerto in C Major by Dmitry Kabalevsky, would have made the Russian composer himself proud.
“It can really kind of calm me down, when I’m sad or something, it makes me happy,” said Jackson, who also plays baseball and water polo at Sobrato.
At rehearsal, his parents Julie and Scott Jackson watch on the sidelines as their son nods his head in movement to the notes he plays, feeling the music.
“It’s actually fun for us. For me, it’s behind the scenes since I don’t play … you go and try to bring a book (to rehearsals), but you just end up listening,” said Scott, who watches rehearsals leaning forward in his chair, hands clasped, smiling.
Ben began playing the violin when he was 3 years old. Julie said they got the idea from a fellow mom at Ben’s day care who had older children who played the violin. Ben begged his parents that he too wanted to play. They took him to teacher Lesa Zuehlke in Campbell and since then, Ben has been hooked.
He also is a member of the San Jose Youth Camber Orchestra, although this is his first time performing a solo. Ben also plays the French horn, the mandolin and the electric bass.
For Ben, his parents say playing and practicing his piece is his own discipline – they just drive him to rehearsals. With sports and school, Ben tries to practice for about 45 minutes a day.
Yuki Mizuno, 15, a sophomore at Leigh High School in San Jose seems to have many years of experience although he started playing cello at the age of 10. Yuki will be soloing the Concerto in D Minor by Edouard Lalo on the cello.
His mother Hiroko Mizuno is a piano accompanist. Yuki began his musical career playing piano, taking lessons from his mother but soon got frustrated with it, he said. It was then he discovered the cello.
“I just like the sound of it,” he said of his cello.
Yuki, like Ben, also plays in a youth orchestra, the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. He also plays tennis and is part of his school’s key club, with a 4.0 GPA. He said he’s not nervous, but excited.
“I like playing in front of people,” he said.
At rehearsals, his father Mashiaro also stands nearby watching his son perform as mom Hiroko proudly records him on her iPhone.
“He is like a king up there,” jokes Mashiaro.
Yuki on stage, eyes closed, is a natural. When Quartuccio checks during rehearsal with “are we slowing you down?” Yuki responds with “no” and tells him what parts he would like to work on again.
Quartuccio said the seriousness of the young musicians is contagious for the rest of the orchestra.
“The orchestra always plays better when we are accompanying a young soloist,” he said. “These young artists are as serious, and often more serious than the adults. They come in to rehearsal with all their thousands of notes completely memorized.”
The two young men were two of the four finalists for the competition, now in its fourth year. The competition came about to honor the late Al Navaroli, a long time supporter of the South Valley Symphony, now in its 38th season. Navaroli bequeathed some funds to the symphony to promote youth in music, hence the competition.
David Thompson, a South Valley Symphony board member and clarinetist for the symphony is one of the judges who narrowed it down to the final four.
“This year, all four of them were really good. We almost had a four-way tie,” said Thompson.
The young musicians who must be younger than 18 to apply, about 10 this year, submit an application and a CD of one movement of their song of choice. The finalists perform that same piece in a live audition in front of three judges: Thompson, Quartuccio and John Graham, the general manager of the symphony.
Since all four finalists were so good, the judges decided that the other two would be asked to play in a joint concert on March 24 with the Live Oak Band.
Also performing in this Saturday’s concert is cello soloist Pat Meyer, playing “These Feathered Walls” by Ancia Galindo and guest conductor Jim O’Briant will lead the orchestra in “Sylvia Ballet Suite” by Leo Delibes.
– Music for the Young and Young at Heart
4 p.m. Saturday, Gavilan College Theater, 5055 Santa Teresa Blvd.
General Admission, $20. Children younger than 18 and students free
– Bach to Blues
7:30 p.m. March 17, Gavilan College Theater, 5055 Santa Teresa Blvd.
General admission $15; students and seniors $10; VIP $30
Details: Albert Marqués, ([email protected]), or (408) 847-1441
– Opera at the Mission
4:30 p.m. May 13, Mission San Juan Bautista
General admission $35; children younger than 18 and students with valid ID, free
Details: (408) 847-1441
– Live Oak Band and the South Valley Symphony
Live Oak High School, Concert Hall/Performing Arts Center, 1505 E. Main Ave.
March 24 at 7:30 p.m. Concert is free to the public.