McKay strings take center stage with Saturday “Four Seasons” fundraiser concert

Senior Gabriel Jurado, 17, rehearses Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with the McKay High School orchestra on Feb. 23, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

As Alex Figueroa’s students returned to full-time school in the fall, he knew many felt disengaged from orchestra after a year of classes online. 

Rather than ease back in, the McKay High School orchestra teacher decided to go big. 

He and his students set to work preparing for an ambitious fundraiser concert: a performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – among the most famous and difficult violin concertos in the classical repertoire. 

“We knew we were making a bold choice. We knew it would push us and we knew it would be a long process,” Figueroa said. 

But with days to go, his students are ready to take the stage. 

After months of rehearsal, the McKay Chamber Orchestra’s one-night performance will take place Saturday, Feb. 26 at the Elsinore Theatre. The show begins at 7 p.m. and features Hal Gossman, a University of Oregon professor of violin, as the soloist. 

Tickets are $30 and are available online

Hal Grossman, associate professor of violin at the University of Oregon, rehearses Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with the McKay High School orchestra on Feb. 23, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The show is intended to highlight the 27 student musicians in the school’s most advanced string ensemble. It’s also raising money for the school’s music program so they can offer more private lessons and instruments to students who can’t afford their own. 

The students were eager to perfect their performances during a Wednesday afternoon rehearsal as Grossman drilled into the cellos’ articulation on the “Spring” concerto. 

“We haven’t had a new set of eyes on us,” said senior Kevin Flores, 17, the concertmaster. “We’re broadening our interpretation of the piece.” 

Figueroa and Grossman both came to Oregon from Ohio and knew each other through the classical music world in their previous jobs.  

Grossman said Figueroa pitched the Four Seasons concert idea over dinner at his Salem home. 

“It’s been unbelievably fun,” Grossman said during a rehearsal break. Though students have been practicing for months, he only joined them the week leading up to the concert.

 Concertmaster Kevin Flores, 17, right, rehearses Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with the McKay High School orchestra on Feb. 23, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Flores said the concert represents a new step for the district’s music programs, which normally raise money through activities like collecting bottles and cans for deposit or selling chocolate. 

“I’m kind of surprised that we’re doing something this big. I’m really excited,” he said. 

McKay has one of the most active music programs in the district and is Salem’s largest high school. It also has one of the highest poverty rates among students, who often rely on school-provided instruments. 

Flores is among the McKay musicians who have benefited from free lessons offered through the Music Lessons Project, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to give students professional lessons for free. 

He said he’s eager to see that program expand with the money raised. 

Figueroa said his goal is to raise $20,000 from ticket sales and sponsorships. 

Gabriel Jurado, 17, a senior and cellist in the orchestra, has been playing since fourth grade but struggled to stay engaged in music with school online. He thought about quitting, but is glad he didn’t. 

“As I came back, I remembered I missed orchestra and I missed playing,” he said. 

He’s most happy to see McKay get money for new instruments. 

“We have cellos that don’t even have strings,” he said. 

Jurado said he’s excited to play for the community. 

“I hope they enjoy it. We’ve been working really hard,” he said. 

Alex Figueroa, McKay High School orchestra teacher, conducts a rehearsal of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” on Feb. 23, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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