A license to make music
Youth Symphony readies for Winter Concert

SideStory: The power of one

Kasis Sokol, artistic director and conductor of the Durango Youth Symphony, leads the musicians through practice of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” on Monday night at the Community Concert Hall. The symphony will perform the holiday classic during its winter concert evening of Mon., Dec. 8, at the Concert Hall./Photo by David Halterman

by Judith Reynolds

My family is more excited about me getting an American driver’s license than conducting an orchestra.” Kasia Sokol, artistic director and conductor of the Durango Youth Symphony, laughed.

A native of Poland, Sokol has been in Durango a mere 15 months and already amassed a trunk load of duties. An accomplished violinist, Sokol performs regularly in solo and chamber recitals. Her day job is as an assistant professor of music at Fort Lewis College. She’s also concertmaster of the San Juan Symphony, a member of the Red Shoe Piano Trio, and artistic director and conductor of the Durango Youth Symphony. You’d think the Sokol family of Lublin, Poland, would rev up over one or all of these musical accomplishments. But her mother, brother and sister are beside themselves, Sokol said in an interview last week, with “the prospect of me having an American driver’s license.”

Meanwhile, Sokol and her youthful musicians are preparing their winter concert. At 7 p.m. Mon., Dec. 8, in the Community Concert Hall, the Durango Youth Symphony will offer works by Bach, Tchaikovsky and Bartok.

“We’ll open with Johan Sebastian’s Suite #3,” Sokol said. “It’s simple enough for me to teach the players certain orchestral techniques, and it’s difficult enough to be challenging.”

Key among the techniques Sokol has emphasized is unified bowing. Concertgoers take it for granted that a string section will bow in unison, but it takes a lot of rehearsal time with young players to create that, Sokol said. And this music is not only beautiful, but familiar.

“A suite is a piece comprised of several Baroque dance movements. The Air, in particular, is very slow and very beautiful. We have two flutes joining us. Bach wrote the work for oboes, but we don’t have those available to us this year, so we’ve transcribed those parts for flute.”

Following the Bach, a performance by the Violin Virtuosi will be a premiere of sorts, Sokol said.

“This is a new group. We will play a Bartok violin duet. He wrote several sets of duets, some only 20 seconds long. I’ve picked my favorite ones and given the Violin I part to one group of players and Violin II to another. These are the most advanced players in the orchestra, and I will play with them.”

The ensemble will perform standing, Russian style, and it should be impressive. Sokol has also rotated section leadership to give the players leadership experience.

“The music is very upbeat,” she said. “Bartok based many of his melodies on folk music, and it’s challenging to play. He uses different meters with different accents, and sometimes the two parts are playing in different keys. That’s polytonality, and it’s exciting for the players. We hope it will be for the audience, too.”

After a short break to reset the stage, the orchestra will collaborate with Dance in the Rockies. Together, they will perform two selections from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” – “Waltz of the Flowers” and “The Sugar Plum Fairy.”

“We’ll have the full orchestra on stage,” Sokol said. “We have large woodwind and brass sections, because here’s where our Fort Lewis College students come in. Professor Mark Walters has helped a lot in preparing these sections. And as a special feature, Professor Linda Mack will play the celeste.”

For those familiar with “The Nutcracker,” the celeste is the small keyboard instrument that sounds like bells – perfect for Tchaikovsky’s winter fantasy.

For now, Sokol’s priorities are clear – get her musicians ready for this concert. Next spring, another feature may be Sokol driving, not walking, up to campus. By the spring concert, she will likely have an official American driver’s license. It’s only one road test away.



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