In the annals of high school achievement, we are accustomed to hearing about the victories of various and sundry student athletes, or the occasional whiz kid who out-spells the competition by knowing a twelve-vowel word for the underbelly of a scarlet tanager—but sometimes the most extraordinary triumphs go unwitnessed by all but a lucky few.
One such triumph occurred Sunday afternoon, as the three winners of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies (MYS) annual Symphony Solo Competition—Eleanor Bartsch, Daniel Kim, and Sophie Kim—took the stage to perform to a packed house at Orchestra Hall. Backed by the MYS Symphony Orchestra, one of the finest youth orchestras in the country, each of these students played with a level of poise, maturity, and musicianship far beyond their years.
Eleanor Bartsch (violin), a senior at Bloomington Kennedy High School, and Daniel Kim (viola), a senior at St. Paul Central High School, teamed up to deliver a confident, spirited rendition of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in Eb Major. The duo handled the piece’s playful interchanges with ease, and appeared completely unfazed by the pressure of the moment or the grandeur of the venue.
The performance that really brought the house down, however, was Sophie Kim’s sizzling turn as the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, one of the most challenging works in the entire violin repertoire. Half an hour long, with extensive passages of fiery fingerwork, this is a piece that commands the respect of even the most seasoned professionals. Yet Kim, a junior at Edina High School, maintained complete control over Tchaikovsky’s pyrotechnics throughout, and ended up delivering a performance that was as emotionally intense as it was technically stunning. Her orchestral accompaniment, conducted by Manny Laureano, was equally effective in its own right, providing a lyrical, nuanced foundation for Kim to soar.
It’s difficult to overstate the impressiveness of such a feat in a musician so young—Kim was simply magnificent. To be fair, however, she shared the stage with more than 200 young musicians in MYS’s four orchestras, all of whom are accomplished players in their own right. In a perfect world, all of these kids would receive the recognition they deserve. Yesterday, they had to settle for coming very close to perfection. I felt privileged to see it, and judging from the hooting and hollering from every corner of Orchestra Hall, so did everyone else who was there.