To borrow a football analogy, the students in the Maryville High School Chamber Orchestra are elite high school players, the two guest concertmasters who will join them on stage next Tuesday are professional quarterbacks.
William Shaub, concertmaster for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and Jun Iwasaki, concertmaster for the Nashville Symphony, will join the MHS Chamber Orchestra at East Maryville Baptist Church for a performance of Vivaldi’s classic work “Four Seasons.” It’s an opportunity for both audience members and student performers to hear and appreciate an elite caliber of talent, according to Mathew Wilkinson, director of the MHS orchestra program.
“My goal every year is to not only just perform our standard four concerts with all of our kids, but with this audition group that meets once a week outside of class time to come together and play more challenging repertoire,” Wilkinson told The Daily Times this week. “I try to find something that’s a great opportunity for those kids as well as something extra for them; we’ve performed side-by-side with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and I’ve tried to bring in soloists to play with us. This is the second time Jun has come over to play with our orchestra; two years ago when we did a side-by-side performance with the University of Tennessee Symphony, he played with us.
“I want to keep that connection going and show these kids what that next level of musicianship should sound like. It’s giving them the opportunity to play with a rock star, basically.”
Originally from Illinois, Wilkinson earned his cello performance degree at the University of Oregon; Iwasaki’s father was Wilkinson’s first cello teacher, and the two grew up performing in youth symphonies together, Wilkinson said.
“I just thought it would be a cool way to get these guys together and play one of the most iconic pieces in our repertoire,” Wilkinson said. “Each soloist will play two of the Seasons with my chamber group, which is an audition group that meets before school once a week and is one of the top audition groups of our school. They’ll get the the opportunity to play this great music with two stars in the orchestral world.”
Wilkinson left Oregon to pursue his master’s in music education at the University of Tennessee, and in 2010, he took over as director of the MHS orchestra program from long-time teacher and director Bill Robinson.
“That’s one of the reasons that attracted me to the job, just Bill’s reputation and the orchestra program’s reputation as being one of the best in the state and the Southeast,” he said. “Bill did such a great job, and my goal was just to sustain that and take it to the next level of performance and opportunities for my kids.”
The program continues to produce star caliber musicians, with student consistently placing in All East and All State bands. With “Four Seasons,” he said, they’re getting exposure to one of the iconic works of the classical world that will stay with them for a lifetime.“’Four Seasons’ is one of the first programmatic pieces to tell stories; there are poems that go along with each Season, and the music kind of imitates these poems,” he said. “In Spring, there are birds chirping, and you’ll hear that in the music; during the Summer movements, there’s a dog barking, and you hear that in the music. In Autumn, there’s a hunt, and you’ll hear the huntsmen go out in the music, too, and every winter, you hear the Winter movements in the background while you’re shopping at target.
“Vivaldi did a good job of painting those pictures with music, and that’s why it’s good for our kids to be able to play that. If they go on to study music, they’re going to play this music, and it’s going to come back to them, eventually.”