Youth Violinist Has Fun On The Way to Excellence

By Ben Frandzel Special to the Planet
Friday May 07, 2004

When the Berkeley Youth Orchestra takes the stage this Sunday for their final program of the season, it’s quite possible that no one will be having more fun than the performer in the spotlight, 13-year old Jasiu Purat. The winner of the orchestra’s concerto competition, Purat defies cliches of the talented young musician under pressure to excel. Instead, he simply describes his musical activities as opportunities to enjoy himself. 

Purat will be playing the first movement of the Violin Concerto in C Major by Russian composer Dmitri Kabalevsky. “I really like playing a lot,” he says. “It’s fun for me. This was one of my first solo pieces, so it’s really interesting for me to play.”  

The concerto will be the centerpiece of the BYO’s program at 4 p.m. at the Laney College Theatre in Oakland. The program will also include works by Beethoven, Bizet, Grieg, Gliere, O’Reilly and Lotti. 

BYO Music Director Jay Lehmann says of the piece, “The tempo is very rapid, and it’s very exciting. It’s neat because it has so many folk elements, so it’s fun for the orchestra as well as the violinist to play. It’s exciting how Kabalevsky weaves the melody through the piece, and many instruments get featured spots in addition to the violin.” 

Purat adds, “The piece interchanges lyrical and fast passages. I don’t know if it’s very showy. I kind of choose pieces because they’re fun to play or they help me play better.”  

The BYO is comprised of students between the ages of 10 to 15, and provides an outstanding opportunity for young musicians to further their studies. The ensemble draws dedicated young musicians from as far as Vallejo and Castro Valley, although the majority come from the Berkeley-Oakland area. 

Purat has played in the orchestra for two years, and his musical progress has taken him from the principal second violin seat last season to this year’s concertmaster, the leader of the first violin section. Lehmann says of the orchestra’s section leaders, “I gave them the challenge to serve not only as a principal but as a leader to the section. We have coaches who come, too, and they support the coach. Jasiu is willing to fill his traditional role of leading the section, but he goes beyond that. He’s really personable and helps the kids out.” 

Although musical competitions can be high pressure affairs, Purat took the process in stride. “We chose an audition time, we warmed up, and then we went in there and started playing, and two judges gave me comments. I guess I was pretty comfortable. It was my first real competition. I had only played in concerts, so I guess I was a little nervous, but it turned out fine, and I played really well.” 

Purat’s rapid progress has been supported by his attendance at the Crowden School in Berkeley, where music is at the center of a rigorous academic curriculum for fourth- through eighth-graders. Michael Taddei, the school’s Administrative Director, who is also the Berkeley Symphony’s principal bassist, explains, “At Crowden, the first two periods are devoted entirely to music, as well as work on bowing, intensive chamber music, orchestral coaching, and music history and theory.” Purat says he tries to practice the violin two hours a day in addition to his activities at Crowden, and credits his teacher, Berkeley violinist Debbra Wood Schwartz.  

Taddei is also Purat’s chamber music coach, and enjoys his student’s varied abilities and enthusiasm. “Jasiu has always shown a great deal of promise, and it’s very gratifying to see that fulfilled. He started at Crowden in the fourth grade and he’s now in the seventh. He’s a very gifted improviser. His ease and ability to improvise and play in different styles really gives him confidence and the ability to dig in.” Working on a difficult new work by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, Taddei adds Purat “has torn into it like a starving person at a buffet table.” 

Of his varied musical interests, Purat says, “I went to an alternate styles camp last summer and it was really fun because I already had a basic idea of improvising, and it’s really fun to make up your own tunes. I like classical and I like alternate styles equally. They’re both fun to play.”  

Lehmann seconds Taddei’s opinions on Purat’s approach to music. “Jasiu is really strong and he’s got a lot of energy. The kids really look up to him, and he plays with a confidence that really helps the orchestra stay together. Sometimes the kids will spontaneously break into applause for him at rehearsal.” 

One of Purat’s most enthusiastic supporters is, not surprisingly, his mother, Katie Mangotith. Of his studies, she says, “The Crowden School is a great place for kids. I went through music as a kid, and I put my kids into the music program because it’s such a great experience. It changes their lives.”  

On his future musical plans, Purat says, “I really like playing chamber music. I really like everything. I was thinking of joining another orchestra next year, and we were thinking of putting together a string quartet at Crowden. We’re hoping to find a high school with a music program. Berkeley High is a pretty good possibility.” Will he aim to become a professional? “It would be fun,” Purat says, “because it’s one of the things I enjoy doing.”