Old Music, New to Hunting Park: The Philadelphia Orchestra Performs for Esperanza Academy

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It is not particularly often that one hears live classical music in Hunting Park, much less live classical music played by one of the finest ensembles in the United States. But that is just what The Philadelphia Orchestra treated the students of Esperanza Academy Charter School to on the morning of Sept. 26. Around 40 members of the Orchestra, along with their violins, cellos, oboes, and even timpanis, bused to the Esperanza Center and spent an hour performing everything from Mozart to Romanian folk tunes for almost 200 Esperanza Academy students. The event was part of the Orchestra’s “We’re HEAR Week,” an initiative through which the Orchestra and community partners across Philadelphia, like Esperanza, host events that promote music education and access to the Orchestra.

Rev. Luis Cortes and Allison Vulgamore, President and CEO of the Orchestra, kicked off the morning with an instrument donation. The Orchestra generously donated six new instruments, two violins, two violas, and two cellos, to Esperanza through their “Buy One, Give One” Program, a partnership with the Eastman Music Company. Naomy Nevarez and Alanis Ortiz, two students in the music program at Esperanza Academy, received the instruments.

“Now we get to do something that is very special in Latino Philadelphia,” said Rev. Cortes after the donation. “We get to listen to one of the greatest orchestras on this planet right here in el barrio in north Philadelphia.”

The Orchestra tuned for a moment before launching into Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Afterwards, conductor Kensho Watanabe gave a brief explanation of each of the instruments in the orchestra and showed the students how larger instruments like the bass produce lower sounds, while smaller instruments like the viola or violin play higher notes.

The bassist played a deep, menacing note to demonstrate its low tone. “That sounds like a horror movie!” one student from the audience offered, garnering laughs from Mr. Watanabe and the musicians.
The Orchestra played several more classical pieces, including a compilation of several Romanian folk tunes. After the performance, violinist Philip Kates sat for a brief interview with Abraham Betancourt and Melissa Gonzalez both journalism majors at Esperanza Academy.

“My father played the violin all the time at home, and I always wanted to play it like my dad did,” Mr. Kates said. “He got me my first violin when I was three years old. When I was maybe twelve years old, I started doing more practicing in the summer, getting better, being part of better orchestras, and enjoying it more, and I thought ‘Maybe I’d like to do this for a living.”

Like Mr. Kates, both Alanis and Naomy were inspired to play music by their families.

“My brother used to be in a band in Puerto Rico and I wanted to be like him,” said Alanis, who plays the cello. “I like to show people that I have talent and I like to make my parents proud.”

Naomy, who plays the violin, was impressed by the narrative nature of the Orchestra’s performance. “I liked the concert today because it felt like a mini-story and it felt like you were inside of a book,” she said.

Esperanza is grateful to The Philadelphia Orchestra for bringing inspiring music to our Hunting Park community, and for generously donating instruments that will allow our students to continue playing and growing as musicians.