Winnetka, Community

New Trier musicians spend spring break on big stage in NYC

Spring break this year saw New Trier High School band and orchestra students performing at one of the world’s great music venues: David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.

The 132 members of these ensembles took a memorable four-day cultural journey through Manhattan from March 30-April 2, culminating in a successful Sunday evening performance at the newly renovated venue.

“We were very pleased. It went really smoothly,” said Peter Rosheger, New Trier’s director of orchestras, referring to the whole trip as well as the concert. “It’s a packed series of events, which is intentional.”

In addition to two full rehearsals and a sound check, the group squeezed in visits to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the Museum of Modern Art and performances of the New York Philharmonic in Geffen Hall and the musical “Hadestown” on Broadway. They took a group photo in Times Square.

“It’s the perfect combination of events and activities,” said Matt Temple, director of bands at New Trier. “Our students have many opportunities in their own community, but they experience things on these tours that they can’t experience at home. They will remember this trip. That’s the indicator of its success.”

Playing the euphonium, senior Tyler Wang is on stage with his bandmates in David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Senior Tyler Wang, who plays euphonium in band and orchestra, agreed.

“I really enjoyed the trip. I never would have gotten the chance to see Broadway or the New York (Philharmonic) if it weren’t for this trip making me do it,” he said.

The Geffen Hall performance itself is the capstone. Although remodeled and renamed, the hall has hosted world famous composers and performers for many years.

“It’s hard to say what it’s like to play in that hall,” Rosheger said. “When the students first step on the stage, there’s some awe and intimidation. What you see on the students’ faces is joy and reverence. But then they realize that they need to perform there, and they do that.”

Temple and Rosheger have taken many student groups on tour together, and both said that the students always rise to the occasion and perform very well.

“They step up and meet the moment,” Rosheger said. The act of performing there “has a profound impact on students.”

“It’s as good as it gets,” Temple added. “It’s a really special experience.”

Junior Ava Siu, who plays tuba and bass trombone in the band and orchestra, called the Geffen Hall performance “a rare opportunity. All the students on the trip really connected because of the significance of playing in a great hall. I felt like the beauty of music was greatly valued and respected in New York and Lincoln Center.”

Wang added that “playing in David Geffen was very surreal. … Although I know I felt a little nervous coming onstage, talking with my bandmates afterwards it seemed that everyone was very happy about the performance.” 

The orchestra and band each played a lively mix of contemporary and more traditional classical selections. During one piece the band played, “Desert Sage,” the composer, Michael Markowski, was in the audience and took a bow.

A 2014 New Trier graduate and cellist, Johannes Gray joined the orchestra to play two movements of Michael Haydn’s cello concerto in B-flat major.

Peter Rosheger, New Trier’s director of orchestras, conducts during a performance at Geffen Hall.

Both directors admired the hall’s renovation.

“The architecture and design are stunning,” Temple said.

In contrast to other halls that retain their historic ambiance, “The freshness there is breathtaking. I was smitten with it,” he said.

New Trier shared the stage on April 2 with ensembles from another high school with a powerhouse music program: Diamond Bar High School from California.

“With the Diamond Bar groups flanking us, that might have focused our students even more,” Temple said. “They saw each other backstage and were cheering each other on.”

Rosheger said the performance is “every bit as great as a tournament win by a high school sports team. Some might say it’s more meaningful because there’s no winner and no loser.”

This year’s tour is the first since the beginning of the pandemic. Music programs, like sports teams and other student activities nationwide, suffered in the last few years from lack of participation.

Given this reality, both directors were pleased at the students’ enthusiasm and responsiveness during the tour.

To Temple, it did feel like a return to New Trier’s pre-pandemic student ensembles. Rosheger pointed out that participation numbers, which fell off dramatically in the feeder districts for a couple of years, are still bouncing back; however, “it feels back in terms of how we work and rehearse together,” he said.

Siu also noted that this first out-of-state trip since the pandemic “brought back a sense of community in the music department.”

Rosheger will retire from New Trier this spring after 29 years at the school and 37 years teaching music.

“My place of joy is in the classroom with the students,” he said. “But this has been a rich year full of good experiences, and this tour was a good way to end it.”

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Kathryn Calkins

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