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Musicianship at PDS Is Reaching New Heights
Musicianship at PDS Is Reaching New Heights

Prepare to Be Wowed at Upper School Instrumental Music Winter Concert

Photo and a warp-speed musical segment caught on video, below, are from a recent Upper School orchestra rehearsal.

Princeton Day School's Tomasz Rzeczycki (pronounced Zhe-chet-ski), is a busy man. He teaches Music Theory and directs the Orchestra and Chamber Music in Upper School; Chamber Players, Sinfonia 5/6 and Sinfonia 7/8 in Middle School; and Lower School Orchestra, plus coordinates and teaches select private lessons at PDS after school. In his spare time, he also teaches at Westminster Conservatory, maintains his own professional cello career and keeps a maestro's eye on his 7th grade son, a PDS Middle Schooler who plays violin. This week, he and the orchestra have been rehearsing vigorously for the Upper School Instrumental Music Winter Concert, which will be performed on December 11 at 7:30pm in McAneny Theater.

Dr. Rzeczycki, who has been teaching at PDS for well over a decade, is more dedicated than ever to developing and showcasing the talent of the School's growing crop of student musicians. "This year, the Upper School music program has the best teamwork and collection of talent in 15 years—and the largest number of participants in 20 years," he declares.

"This renewed program strength is due at least in part to implementing obligatory music ensembles in Middle School. We now have a steady flow of students with developed talents in the Middle and Upper School." Dr. Rzeczycki notes.

"We currently have three students in our ensembles here who are in the pre-Julliard program—violinist Eric Chen '19 and clarinetists Veronica Li '22 and Yufang (Yvonne) Wang '22," states Dr. R., as he is known by the students. "Kevin Chen '11, Eric's older brother, also participated in that program. He went on from PDS to study in the joint Julliard-Columbia pre-med/music program, which is extremely rigorous. Kevin now plays violin for the New World Orchestra in Miami," he adds.

Reflecting the increased depth, breadth and reputation of the PDS music program, the array of instruments played has expanded significantly. "The orchestra used to be overwhelmingly strings-oriented," Dr. R. says. "Now we have substantial growth in woodwinds and brass. For example, two French horns, two clarinets, two flutes, and an oboe have enhanced our range of sounds and musical textures and expanded our repertoire," he explains.

"Even among strings, we've increased our range. In fact, one strings student, Jacob Tharayil '19, switched instruments, to double-bass, to deepen the musical sound of the orchestra. His selflessness has been inspiring to everyone in the orchestra. With the addition of double-bass, along with trombone, we have a rich six-octave range and thrilling depth of sound," Dr. R. notes, adding, "and with more woodwinds, the range is even more significant."

Another key factor in the orchestra's exceptional talent: As an independent day school, PDS allows students the space and time to continue after-school musical studies in their communities and at prestigious pre-college music programs, which are typically in session on Saturdays. Serious musicians who live in the area know that the School not only has a schedule that will meet their needs, but an outstanding music department featuring the formidable talents of Dr. Rzeczycki and his colleagues, including Channing McCullough, Upper School Band Conductor.

At the upcoming Winter Concert, virtuosic band and orchestra performances of works that cross cultures, time and genres will provide sensational musical experiences for everyone. McCullough's band will open the instrumental program with rhythmically irresistible arrangements from samba to what is arguably considered the most lyrical heavy metal composition of all time. Closing the evening, Dr. R.'s Upper School orchestra showcases works by some stellar symphonic composers, including a spine-tingling overture by Mozart; an enigmatic variation by Sir Edward Elgar, part of a group of compositions believed to involve a hidden melody thread; an atmospheric theme by contemporary film score composer Alan Silvestri, a frequent collaborator with film director Robert Zemeckis; and a gorgeous duet by master of the tango Carlos Gardel, featured in films including Schindler's List and Scent of a Woman, performed with dance and violin.

Make it a point to experience the full program—there are some surprises we have not revealed!—on December 11. The performance is free of charge.

And take note: performing their Winter Concert the following Monday, December 17, at 7pm in the theater are the excellent Middle School Strings players, featuring the Middle School Allegro Strings, directed by Amy Goodman Wulfman, and the Chamber Players and Sinfonias. The always-heartwarming Lower School Holiday Concert brings the calendar year to a close at PDS, with two theater performances, on December 18 at 8:30am for PreK-Grade 2 parents, and on December 19 at 8:30am for parents of students in Grades 3-4. Lower School music teacher Julia Beckman directs the choral work of the PreK-Grade 4 students. The concert concludes with a piece featuring the Lower School Strings players.

Learn more about music at PDS, including a list of adjunct faculty here.

More about Tomasz Rzeczycki, beyond his musical work at PDS: Dr. Rzeczycki received his doctorate in cello performance from the University of Texas at Austin and his master's in cello performance from Shenandoah Conservatory. A native of Poland who grew up before the communist bloc achieved independence, he and his older brother, who played viola, attended a rigorous academic-music school program from middle through high school. In 1988 the school orchestra won an international competition in Vienna and was awarded a three-week U.S. tour.

Dr. R. earned his B.A. in music at the Music Academy in Cracow, Poland. He studied cello with Andrzej Pall, Henryk Zarzycki, Dorota Imielowska and Julian Tryczynski; was a teaching assistant when at the University of Texas for the renowned Phyllis Young (1925-2017), Professor Emerita of Cello and String Pedagogy, and has performed internationally as a chamber musician and orchestral player. Highlights include: Bach Academy under Helmuth Rilling (Arthuas Musik recordings), Pavarotti Orchestra (South American tour), Warsaw Mozart Festival (period instrument), and performances with several U.S. symphony and philharmonic orchestras. Dr. R's musical collaborations with numerous artists, including Martin Ostertag, Thomas Brandis, Claus Kanngiesser, Krzysztof Penderecki, Van Cliburn and Boris Pergamenschikow. His most recent performances include Carnegie Hall and concerts at the White House for the past two Presidential administrations. -Melanie Shaw