On April 20, Vincent Igusa, a 15-year-old sophomore at Towson High School, will have a rare opportunity to perform beside members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore — and in a starring role.
Igusa, who plays the bassoon, will perform with the orchestra as part of the Baltimore County Public Schools' annual Side by Side concert, during which students perform with the professionals from the orchestra. He will be joined by 35 other students from seven high schools in the county, though Igusa has the distinction of being this year's Young Soloist, meaning he will perform a piece alone with the orchestra.
The piece will be the first movement of the Concerto for Bassoon K191 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which Igusa said is probably the most famous piece of music written for his instrument.
The orchestra's associate conductor, Nicholas Hersh, who will conduct the performance, compared Igusa's opportunity to that of little league baseball player taking the field in a major league game.
Igusa played in last year's Side by Side concert, and said the experience is akin to getting a private lesson from the professionals in the symphony orchestra. Young musicians, who sit literally side-by-side with the professionals during the concert, have opportunities to ask questions and learn from the experts.
"It's really beneficial to all the musicians, and a lot of them might never get this opportunity again," Igusa said.
In addition, students can watch the performers to see how they pick up on non-verbal ques during performances, Hersh said.
"Outside of simply playing the notes on their instruments, there's a lot of sort of interpersonal communication that happens [between musicians] — non-verbal communication that happens — that you just really can't quantify, and you can only really experience ... if you're sitting right there next to them," Hersh said. "It's really about experiencing these moments in music together."
The Baltimore County Public Schools students with whom he has worked in the past have shown an exceptional level of dedication and preparation, Hersh said. The orchestra also does Side by Side concerts with students from Anne Arundel and Howard County schools, he said.
"They really come knowing what a rare opportunity it is to work with the BSO in this context, and they really show it," Hersh said. "Their work has paid off and they have great focus, they have great drive, they really capitalize on this great opportunity."
A musical family
Igusa said he practices his instrument every day, for at least an hour. He added that he would like to pursue a career in music.
He was introduced to music when his mother taught him to play piano at a young age. Igusa has been playing the bassoon — a member of the woodwind family of instruments, with a long body and double-reed mouth piece — for about six years.
His older brother, Jasper, also performed in the Side by Side concert. Jasper Igusa, who also attended Towson High School, is now studying oboe at Northwestern University, Igusa said.
Music is a part of the family's life, said Igusa's mother, Catherine Renggli, adding that, although learning to play an instrument can be frustrating, it teaches children to overcome obstacles.
The bassoon typically attracts students who want to be different, said Terry Ewell, Igusa's long-time bassoon teacher and Towson University bassoon and music theory professor
"When you play bassoon you're often the only one in your school," Ewell said.
The two meet weekly for lessons. Ewell called Igusa a remarkable student who has flourished and shown dedication. Igusa has written a section of music for his solo, called a cadenza, that Ewell said showcases Igusa's creativity.
Baltimore County Public Schools have partnered with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for more than 15 years in the side-by-side program, said Shane Jensen, a music specialist with the school system.
Students in grade 9 through 12 are eligible to audition for the opportunity to perform in the concert, while a separate audition is held for the soloist position. A panel of staff from the school system and the symphony orchestra evaluate the students.
"Every student who auditions is talented and amazing in their right, but this year Vincent was chosen," Jensen said.
The concert originally was scheduled for March 22, but was rescheduled for April 20 due to inclement weather.
The concert, which begins at 4:45 p.m., is free and open to the public, though people interested in attending should first contact the school system's Office of Music at 443-809-4024.