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Youth Movement

Stewart Oksenhorn

Horace and Stephanie Work don’t get much time at the piano these days at the family’s home in Snowmass Village. They have pretty much ceded control of the piano to their children: Victoria, 17; Nathan, 16; and Yale, 13. “We dominate the piano now. So they can’t play anymore,” said Yale.

Then there is the other matter of how much time the Work parents spend behind the wheel of a car rather than at the keys of the piano. Victoria has piano lessons in Boulder every Saturday. Yale has piano and cello lessons every Thursday in Boulder and rehearsals Saturday mornings with the Denver Young Artists Orchestra. Then there are the competitions and performances that are becoming increasingly frequent for Yale, considered the family’s most promising musician. And on and on.

Horace and Stephanie clearly won’t be getting in much piano time this weekend. Victoria and Yale, as two of the winners – along with 9-year-old violinist Michael Zimet – of Symphony in the Valley’s Young Artists Concerto Competition, will be performing as soloists at the symphony’s Mother’s Day concerts. The concerts are set for Saturday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aspen District Theatre, and Sunday, May 9, at 2 p.m. in the Glenwood Springs High School auditorium. And no, Stephanie assures with a sigh, the local concerts don’t relieve the Works of their weekend trip to the Front Range.

In addition to the usual road trips, Horace and Nathan will be occupied with their own orchestral duties. Both are violinists with Symphony in the Valley. They will be part of the orchestra when Yale, who won the Concerto Competition, plays the first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, and Victoria, who took second, performs the second movement of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G minor. (Victoria and Yale are also members of the orchestra, Victoria as a violist and Yale as a cellist.)

Zimet, the son of Millard and Susan Zimet of Aspen, placed third in the inaugural Concerto Competition, and will perform Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor. The Aspen Elementary School fourth-grader hasn’t performed with an orchestra yet; the rehearsals so far with an orchestra behind him have been an eye-opener.

“It’s a lot different than playing with just the piano part,” said Zimet, who started studying violin at 6, to play with his mom, also a violinist. “It sounds a lot different. It’s kind of cool to hear it.”

Zimet confesses to some nervousness about the performance. But he seems to have a good handle on any jitters. He was nervous for the competition and did fine there. Asked how he feels about the upcoming concerts, he said “Nervous” – but sounded as if he couldn’t wait for the performance to begin.

Zimet studies with local violin teacher Heidi Curatolo and hopes to join Symphony in the Valley next year. When not practicing – and Zimet is notorious for his dedication to his violin – he snowboards and plays with his friends.

This weekend’s concerts will also feature the Rev. Richard Lyon, minister at the Aspen Community United Methodist Church and a regular stage actor in local productions, making his conducting debut, leading the orchestra in a performance of Mussorgsky’s “Gopak.” Also on the program are pieces by Schubert, von Suppe and Berlioz.

Wendy Larson knows the life of a young musician. The artistic director and conductor of Symphony in the Valley grew up in Pueblo studying piano, then cello, surrounded by a mother and sisters who also played music. She played in junior high and high school orchestras and sang in the church choir. All the practice and performing paid off when she earned a full scholarship at the University of Northern Colorado, where she earned a degree in music education.

Larson took a job in Illinois leading public school orchestras, and was impressed to discover that every member of the middle-school orchestra took private lessons. When she returned to Colorado nearly three decades ago to take a job in the Aspen School District, she figured Aspen, home of a world-class music festival and school, would offer at least match the musical opportunities as Illinois.

What she found surprised her. There were no school orchestras in the Roaring Fork Valley; today, there is only the fledgling program in the Aspen Middle and High schools.

Larson has sought to correct that absence with Symphony in the Valley. Larson became co-conductor of the orchestra in its second year of existence, 11 years ago; the following year, she took over as artistic director. Among the orchestra’s current 60 or so members are over a dozen school-age musicians. This year, Symphony in the Valley instituted the Young Artists Concerto Competition, which drew eight entrants.

“I think Symphony in the Valley serves a need for young people,” said Larson, who retires from her job as a sixth-grade teacher after the current school year. “We’re a performance outlet for them. If you’re an orchestral musician, there’s no other place for you to play other than Symphony in the Valley.

“They could give a recital, but who would come? Their friends and family. We give them an opportunity to perform for an audience. In Glenwood or Rifle or Battlement Mesa, we get full houses. They get so excited, because we’re the only game in town.”

Larson could hardly ask for more from the first set of winners of the Concerto Competition. Victoria and Yale Work and Michael Zimet, she says, all have real talent, and all seem like the kind of kids with whom one wouldn’t mind spending extensive hours. And they have the necessary commitment toward their instruments.

“I have to kick these guys out of the band room at night,” said Larson, who maintains a one-night-a-week rehearsal schedule during the Symphony in the Valley season, from September through May. “I turn the lights out and lock the doors on them. I tell them they have to go to bed. I have to go to bed.”

Classical music is a fact of life at the Work residence. Horace, now mostly retired after stints as an organic vegetable farmer, entrepreneur and investor, holds several advanced degrees in music theory. Stephanie is a flutist and pianist. Their home has no television, so guiding the children toward an appreciation of music was a snap.

“It wasn’t tough for us,” said Horace, who began piano lessons four years ago. “We play a lot of classical music on CDs and records at home. When Yale had to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, he went crazy. He couldn’t get enough of it. It took him by storm.”

Several years ago, Horace had the idea to put together a family quartet. Lacking a violist, he appointed Victoria to play the instrument; at the Symphony in the Valley’s last Christmas Concert, Victoria performed Telemann’s Concerto for Viola in G. “You go to their house and they have a string quartet. It’s like an 18th-century family,” said Larson.

Music hasn’t stopped Victoria from cultivating other interests. A “jock” (her father’s term) and a straight-A student (her father boasts), Victoria has played on the Aspen club hockey teams that won three straight state championships and lost the title in triple overtime this year. She is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and is headed this fall to Maine’s Colby College, where she plans to study French and biology.

Of the Works, Yale is the most serious about music, and is already thinking about a career as a musician. He’s well on his way: In the last year, he has won several state competitions. This summer, he will play concerts with the Denver Young Artists Orchestra in Vienna and Budapest. A home-schooled student, Yale also skis, bowls, juggles and plays chess.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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