By JoAnne Goldberg
Special to the Almanac
Menlo-Atherton High School's music director, Kent Kurrus, was not surprised that his student orchestra captured a coveted Gold Medal at the annual Chicago Festival of Gold held at the end of March.
"These young musicians give their all," says Mr. Kurrus, who launched the orchestra in 2011 and has watched it double in size in just three years. "Our students exhibit tremendous individual talent and the drive to be successful as a group."
The Festival of Gold is an invitation-only event, and the Menlo-Atherton orchestra secured its spot by winning the Anaheim Music Festival in the spring of 2013.
Music groups from around the United States and Canada competed during the four-day festival that began on March 28, culminating on March 31 with a day of performances at Chicago Symphony Hall. The orchestra played three pieces for the audience and judges, who agreed that M-A's rendition of the Brandenburg Concerto was the orchestral highlight of the day.
When the 32 student musicians weren't practicing or playing, they took advantage of the opportunity to tour Chicago's Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Water Tower Place, and Millennium Park. They sampled classic Chicago pizza at Gino's East, a lunch sponsored by the M-A Band Boosters, and strolled down Michigan Avenue. The M-A Band Boosters also helped underwrite trip expenses,
The music did not end when the festival concluded. Returning home on April 1, the musicians found themselves stranded for six hours at O'Hare airport. Undaunted, they pulled out their instruments and reprised their Chicago Symphony program -- an impromptu concert that drew cheers and applause from fellow travelers and airport staff.
Kent Kurrus, who joined the M-A faculty in 2010, also directs the school's three jazz bands and concert band.
JoAnne Goldberg is a Menlo Park resident whose son performs with the orchestra.