2022 Senior Concerto Competition Winners Perform with Phillips Academy Chamber Orchestra

Cathy Cho ’22 plays the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor.

Pianist Elizabeth Zhang ’22 and conductor Derek Jacoby share a hug.

Ending in thunderous applause for the orchestra and soloists, the Phillips Academy Chamber Orchestra concert this Sunday featured two of this year’s Senior Concerto Competition winners, Cathy Cho ’22 and Elizabeth Zhang ’22. Zhang opened the program with “Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise” by Frédéric Chopin, arranged for piano and orchestra, followed by Cho’s performance of the 1st Movement of “Violin Concerto in E minor” by Felix Mendelssohn.

Inspired by Eden Cui ’19, one of the senior soloists who performed in her junior year, Cho has dreamt of playing as a soloist with an orchestra ever since, and winning the Senior Concerto Competition gave her this special opportunity. For this concert, Cho chose the Mendelssohn Concerto because she felt that its popularity would allow even non-musical audience members to appreciate classical music. 

“I’m excited to share my music with other people[…] To play with an orchestra as a soloist, it’s a huge opportunity. And it’s the first time I’m ever doing this. So I’m really looking forward to that, I’m really looking forward to just delivering this music.“ said Cho before the performance. 

Similarly, Zhang also learned about the Senior Concerto Competition opportunity in her junior year when she took MUS 400 with Derek Jacoby, instructor in music and conductor of the Phillips Academy Chamber Orchestra. She is very familiar with the piece that she chose, and picking it up recently after a two year hiatus gave her a new and refreshing interpretation of it.

“[I thought] that it would be really unique to perform this [piece] with the symphony, because I’ve performed it solo many times before, I’ve heard it solo many times before, but I rarely ever hear it with the symphony. […] Being able to have the chance to play with the orchestra, with Dr. Jacoby conducting, it feels very [much like] a full circle, and it’s a great way to end senior year,” said Zhang.

During the performance, playing as accompaniment required the orchestra members to be especially aware and sensitive to not overshadow the soloist. According to Lindsey Lee ’25, a violist in the orchestra, the orchestra rehearsed with the soloists throughout the term, learning to adjust to Zhang’s and Cho’s tempos and dynamics in addition to closely following the conductor.

“We have to adapt to whatever Cathy’s playing. So if she decides to play this part faster, then we would have to match that tempo, so it was hard trying to get those details right. But once we did get it, it sounded great. And also, in terms of dynamics, we have to play quieter so that Cathy can be heard, so listening to the soloists and changing how we’re playing and adapting to her, that’s the biggest thing I learned,” said Lee.

After accompanying the soloists, the orchestra continued the concert with two more pieces, the darker yet lively “String Quartet No. 8” by Shostakovich and the “Symphony No. 88 in G major” by Haydn. Though the concert lasted longer than expected, the mixture of more emotional and more technical pieces kept the audience engaged, according to audience member Jenny Jin ’24. 

“Both [the soloists’] pieces [were] really beautiful and really emotional and really passionate. [The performers] must have practiced a lot to do this…I feel like they deserve to be recognized like this on the stage. I was super impressed by [the] performance,” said Jin.

Overall, the soloists brought new inspiration and admiration to the audience and the musicians in the orchestra alike. Going forward, the orchestra will feature the final Senior Concerto Competition winner, violist Brendon Chung ’22, in the Spring term.