ALBANY — The Empire State Youth Orchestra’s (ESYO) 2023-2024 concert season, Breathe!, is a celebration of unity, harmony, and the collective spirit of music, allowing musicians and audiences to breathe together in the shared experience of live orchestral performances.
The season kicked off Sunday, Oct. 29, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall with ESYO’s Symphony Orchestra performing Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” Lois Lyman Concerto winner William Lauricella performed Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto in C minor. The Bethlehem student has the unique privilege of being the only person to win the competition twice.
Lauricella remembered his elation over his win in 2020.
“I was so excited to play with the orchestra, but due to COVID-19, we couldn’t play for some time,” he said.
He was given the opportunity to record his performance at Proctors with a smaller ensemble.
“I loved the performance,” he said, “but I’m very much looking forward to playing a concerto in front of a live audience, especially at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.”
ESYO’s music director and symphony orchestra conductor Etienne Abelin said Lauricella is a very talented musician.
“William is a fantastic young artist, not only as a pianist but also as a percussionist. His marimba playing, for example, is extraordinary as well,” said Abelin. “To play an intricate piece such as Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto is a fantastic accomplishment and a fabulous challenge for both him and the orchestra.”
When selecting his piece, Lauricella found compelling parallels between Rachmaninoff’s life and ESYO’s theme. Before this composition, Rachmaninoff had received significant criticism for his previous work.
“Writing this piece really helped him get to a better state,” said Lauricella,noting how the Second Piano Concerto in C minor was Rachmaninoff’s way of pausing to breathe. “It’s a beautiful piece of music and a great piece to listen to. It’s such a big and powerful piece to start off a program and season.”
Lauricella describes the piece as “celebratory” and “romantic,” as it focuses on breathing and connecting with one another. Connecting with people through music is essential to Lauricella, as he dedicates his time to concerts at assisted living facilities, nursing homes and local organizations like the Ronald McDonald House.
“I am proud of him for touching people’s lives of all ages,” said Lauricella’s mother. “Every year, William gives a piano concert at his great-grandmother’s senior housing facility in California. His great-grandmother is 102. We call it her birthday concert. Residents with dementia hum along with him as he plays classical piano music, and they tell him the music brings them back to life.”
Abelin praised Lauricella’s selection of Rachmaninoff and its connection to ESYO’s theme.
“This piece is pure breath; it moves organically, constantly gently slowing down and speeding up; it’s very fluid and still has a strong sense of pulse,” he said. “I think it embodies our theme beautifully.”
The concept of breath will be explored in several ways throughout the 2023-2024 season, from musical selections to the way they are performed. In addition to learning to breathe together, musicians will explore various interpretations of breath through the repertoire, such as how a composer such as Shostakovich was able to “artistically breathe” under an authoritarian regime.
“I look forward to seeing our theme explored in many different ways, starting with experiencing ESYO orchestras play without conductors, which is only possible when all musicians breathe together,” said Abelin.
Attendees throughout the upcoming season are invited to draw in a collective breath with the musicians as the orchestra explores this dynamic, harmonious approach.
“Breathe! reminds me that I need to collaborate with the orchestra,” said Lauricella.
This collaboration between the musicians will be at the heart of the upcoming season.
“If an orchestra doesn’t breathe, it’s not really alive,” said Abelin. “This year, we will breathe more fully with each other and with the music, so we can live in the present moment and truly connect with each other and the world around us.”
For Lauricella, this upcoming season is an important reminder to him of “how far the orchestra and I have come.”
“It’s incredible that I’ve had the opportunity to not just play one concerto but a second with this amazing youth orchestra. I’m so grateful to be playing in this performance,” said Lauricella. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity that I’ve been given.”
For ticket information, venue details, and the full concert schedule, visit esyo.org/news-concerts.