The New Jersey State Youth Orchestra’s Chamber Music Ensemble was featured in the Winner’s Recital of the 2018-19 Crescendo International Competition, which took place in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Sunday, January 20, 2019. They opened the Winner’s Recital with their original arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” The auditorium was filled to capacity, and many in the audience gave them a standing ovation for their performance. The Chamber Ensemble was awarded second place overall, a remarkable achievement for their first foray into the realm of international music competitions.

“It is such a wonderful opportunity for the Chamber Ensemble to be able to perform at Carnegie Hall. It is a dream come true for the musicians and their families,” according to Gayle Topper, President of the New Jersey State Youth Orchestra,

The Chamber Music Ensemble is led by accomplished conductor and musician Leo Soeda. The members are an advanced group of high school students from all over Monmouth County and beyond.  Students in this group are given the unique experience of playing in a small group with more individual responsibility. All of the students work together using cues and focused listening, without having a conductor direct them during their performances.

According to Soeda, “I believe chamber music is the ultimate and the truest form of music making. Without the presence of the conductor, each player has the autonomy over how the music goes, which can make things more spontaneous. Each performer has a much bigger role to play, or bigger responsibility, than in orchestra or even in solo performance, which makes it more demanding, and therefore more rewarding. And I think that is what makes it more fun. In our group, everyone gets along, which I think is the most important key to having a successful ensemble, and on top of that, we play music that we like. We perform anything from Bach to Britney Spears. No style is out of bounds for us.”