I look out through the large windows as evening falls. Three ducks fly by as water tumbles down a fountain into a pond below. A violinist and a pianist enter the room, bow before the audience, and begin playing a Mozart concerto. I'm dreaming, right? I mean, I live in Las Vegas. I'd better not pinch myself — I might flinch and distract the musicians. (Opening photo: Cellist Matthew Heenan, accompanied by pianist Barbara Buer.)

Drawing on the success of the Las Vegas Philharmonic's Connoisseur Soirée Series, the Nevada School of the Arts held a special recital by several of its finest students. The event was held at the Spanish Trails Country Club to raise money for ongoing instructional programs at the school and increase awareness of the amazing talent that NSA has been nurturing for over 25 years in our city.

Emily Holden performs
a Gershwin prelude.

Ever heard a violin from close up? You get the instrument's full dynamic range: the subtle fragility of pianissimo to the surprising power of fortissimo. James Reinarz played Mozart's "Allegro" movement with great finesse and was accompanied beautifully by instructor Polya Bankova on piano. The otherwise lively piece contained a slow, sweet interlude in the middle, and I was reminded why people jokingly mime the playing of a violin to depict melodramatic sadness. This was the real thing.

Well, we'd been warned: Dr. Paul Hesselink, dean of NSA, told us "don't get depressed" when we witnessed the genius of these students. It didn't help. The next performer, young Paulina Haduong, played the difficult "Spanish Dance" by Manuel de Falla and had quicker fingers than magician Lance Burton. Moreover, I was struck by how utterly relaxed she looked as she coordinated rapid-fire bowing by her right hand with tricky pizzicato plucking by her left. "That girl is in the zone," I thought. Dr. Hesselink is no musical slouch himself: get this soft-spoken man near a pipe organ, as I heard at one Philharmonic concert, and he can bring the house down.

Bach's "Gavotte en Rondeau" was performed by Jeremy Rhizor. The graceful, melodic tune evoked images of European cathedrals. A couple of Jeremy's bowstrings broke during the performance, but the thin hanging strands didn't affect his playing in the least. John Clare, music director at KCNV public radio and a violinist himself, explained that the bow has over 200 horsehair strands, and breakages are frequent. At the Philharmonic the audience is too far back to discern such things.

Next, cellist Matthew Heenan performed the "Moderato" movement from Joseph Haydn's Concerto in C Major, with lively accompaniment by pianist Barbara Buer. At close range, the cello's rich resonance projected nicely as Matthew reached down for the low notes.

Another Spanish dance, Pablo de Sarasate's "Malagueña," was played with great passion by Scott Jackson, accompanied by Polya on piano. The piece required Scott to pluck the strings with both hands while simultaneously using the bow for other notes. Wow! His particular violin had a subdued, breathy tone that seemed to crackle like a romantic old LP record. I found myself really wishing to see a Spanish lady dance to this tune.

Violinist Emily Holden played George Gershwin's brief, tricky "Prelude No. 1." The composer's jazzy style was instantly recognizable and loads of fun to hear.

This group jokingly calls itself
"The Boring Quartet."
The audience was anything but bored.

The finale was by a quartet of Jackson, Reinarz, Heenan, and violinist Natalie Cheung, performing a section from Felix Mendelssohn's Quartet in E Minor. "Presto agitato" was the perfect description, as the piece conveyed great intensity and a sense of constant motion. Playing together as an ensemble without a conductor isn't easy, but the musicians made it seem so, right through the wonderfully coordinated ending. I enjoyed the blending of different tones, from the violins' heights to the cello's depths, with the richness of a viola in the middle. Was it difficult for James to switch from violin to viola for this piece? Instructor and Trustee Shakeh Ghoukasian explained that all the strings are tuned the same except the lowest, which is tuned down by a fifth. "That's called 'alto clef'," she said. What? I had enough trouble reading the bass and treble clefs in school, and today I learn that there's an alto clef? "Now I'm scared," I told her.

Visit Webbandstand.comThese kids weren't scared. The bios in the program list countless recitals given and prizes won by tonight's performers. Don't be surprised if you see their names on the program at future Las Vegas Philharmonic concerts. The Phil, and Las Vegas, will be the richer for their presence.

By Robert LaGrone, Las Vegas Jetsetters Magazine Entertainment Editor.

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