Among the premier concert venues in the world, Carnegie Hall certainly rates in the top five. It's no exaggeration to say that it's every performer or ensemble's desire to appear on the stage of the historic, 107-year-old hall.
And once it happens, one can say that one has arrived. It's a benchmark in an artist's career like no other.
While the venue regularly presents the world's major orchestras and soloists, as well as all the jazz greats, it does on occasion host community and school ensembles. And for them it's an experience that will last a lifetime.
Recently, Brigham Young University's chamber orchestra capped off a three-week East Coast tour with a concert in the venerable hall. For conductor Kory Katseanes and the 49-member orchestra, it was a larger-than-life dream come true.
"It was more than just a concert," Katseanes told the Deseret News. "It was kind of an event. It was satisfying in every way, and the response from the audience was just incredible."
The musicians had the same feeling. "It was absolutely amazing," said Sharon Meilstrup, who is the orchestra's pianist and principal cellist. "It was exciting hearing how great we sounded at the afternoon rehearsal and at the concert that night. It made us rise to the top."
"It was great. We loved the music, and we could feel the energy from the audience," Joe Nibley, the orchestra's principal trumpeter, said.
"We were all ecstatic, of course," Katseanes said. "You felt like you were on sacred ground because of all the great musicians who have played in Carnegie Hall."
The tour repertoire that Katseanes and the orchestra brought with them was fairly large in order to bring a little variety to the 10-city tour's program. For their Carnegie Hall concert, the orchestra opened with Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and closed with Beethoven's Symphony No. 4. In between the two, they played Rossini's overture to "La Gazza Ladra" and gave the New York premiere of K. Newell Dayley's "A Perfect Brightness of Hope," with soloists Jennifer Welch-Babidge, soprano, and Nathan Botts, trumpet. (Botts is a former BYU student who is now a freelance musician in New York.)
The concert was only the second time that a performing arts ensemble from BYU has appeared onstage in Carnegie Hall, and the Provo school made the most of the occasion.
Prior to the concert, their was a reception in the hall's second story banquet room. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invited a large number of foreign diplomats to the reception and the concert. Nineteen countries were represented, including nations from Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, South America and the Middle East. "It was an amazing gathering of people, who were very supportive of us," Katseanes said.
The concert was sold out, which thrilled Katseanes. "It was overwhelming, especially considering that 1,800 people couldn't get in because the tickets had already been given out." Tickets to the concert were donated by sponsors and distributed for free at area LDS churches.
Many of the students' friends and family attended the concert as well. Meilstrup, who is originally from Pennsylvania, had a large number of family members in the hall. "It wasn't too far for them to travel, so there were about 10 to 15 of them present." Others had parents coming to New York from Utah and several other states.
Both Meilstrup and Nibley admitted they were a bit overwhelmed with the thought of playing in Carnegie Hall, but neither let it affect their performance. "I tried not to think about it, but it was kind of intimidating," Nibley said. "It was the biggest hall we ever played in and the biggest audience we ever played for."
"Kory talked to us (at the rehearsal), and told us to enjoy the experience, and once I started to play, my nervousness left me," Meilstrup said.
His pep talk at the rehearsal helped everyone stay focused during the concert, she said. "All Kory told us was that we had done all we could, and now we just need to do our best and not get stressed out and worry about being perfect."
But Katseanes knew what the musicians were going through emotionally. He was feeling the same way himself. "I felt a little overpowered when I walked onstage. I was taken aback by the size of the audience and by their great response. It was more than I expected."
After every concert, the musicians always feel they could have done better, and the Carnegie Hall concert was no exception, Katseanes said. But he couldn't be more gratified with the way his young musicians played that night in New York. "I listened to the recording (a few days) ago, and I was very pleased. The energy level was high, their ensemble playing was great and their intonation was very good. It was as good as a concert could get. It was fantastic."Katseanes understands that having a successful concert tour, and especially one whose highlight was an appearance in Carnegie Hall, is invaluable in recruiting students into the music program at BYU. "It's a valuable asset," he said. "It doesn't hurt for potential students to know that the orchestra played Carnegie Hall. It'll get them to practice and play harder if they want to get in the orchestra. This kind of thing really helps future students."