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Ready for their Orchestral Closeup

While most high schools might choose to end the year performing the typical classical pieces from a composition library, Huntington Beach’s Marina High School orchestra will get the exclusive honor of premiering two scores written by renowned Hollywood film composer David Bertok.

Marina’s strings coach, Corinne Olsen, had become friends with Bertok after meeting him during a recording session in Los Angeles and thought his music would be a good fit for Marina’s orchestra. So Bertok, who has written for animated films, motion pictures, documentaries and even video games, decided to share a few unpublished works with the students and coach them through his vision of each piece.

Music instructor John McGilligan and Olsen worked with Bertok to find works that would not only challenge the students but inspire them. After a few rehearsal sessions, McGilligan invited Bertok to meet the students and work with them to achieve the sound he had intended.

“Having a composer listen to my group when he’s used to working with professional musicians … I was a little intimidated,” said McGilligan. “They are a group of high school kids, after all.”

Bertok worked with McGilligan’s string orchestra and band groups individually on two pieces. “The Scene,” for string quartet, said Bertok, is an Irish folk tune with a dance feel. The other piece, “Into the Everdream,” requires the full orchestra and is written with a more fantastical quality and sound.

“I was quite impressed with the students’ focus and determination after attending a rehearsal,” said Bertok. “They had just started practicing the music but it was already taking shape quite nicely. We even started discussing interpretation and some of the more subtle aspects of the music.”

Trumpet player Renee Levin, a sophomore, said meeting Bertok and working with him gave the music new life.

“Its kind of unique to play stuff that was written for film because it’s a lot different from the classical or even modern pieces that we play in band,” said Levin. “You’re playing something where someone had a very specific scene in mind so it’s really purposeful. You feel more connected with the music. Having had the chance to meet the composer I think it’s going to put a really cool spin on how we interpret the music and how the audience feels about it.”

Mallet player Tracy Le, a junior, said she enjoyed playing Bertok’s music and getting his feedback because that can’t usually be done when playing a classical piece, whose composer might be long gone. Also, playing music meant for film, she said, is a difference experience altogether.

“I feel like a lot of emotion and imagery came to me when we were playing his music,” said Le. “(The music is) just really expressive.”

After his visit with the orchestra a few weeks before the concert, Bertok said he remains confident that the students will do his pieces justice and considers this a rewarding experience for both parties.

“The students’ excitement about playing my music, but also their interest in orchestral music in general, were the most rewarding parts for me,” said Bertok. “They will do great and hopefully the audience will enjoy it.”