By Daniel Buckwalter

For a final night at the podium with the Oregon Mozart Players, Kelly Kuo and OMP gave a masterful performance.

The full circle of Kuo’s 12-year tenure as artistic director of the Mozart Players was shown to all on May 11 at the Legacy Concert held at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall, and while OMP’s executive director Brian McWhorter correctly called the evening “bittersweet,” I choose to look at the sweet.

There was much to see and appreciate for the near capacity audience. It was a fun and dynamic evening of music and symbolism as OMP now embarks on a new chapter in its history.

Even before the concert, in the Beall Hall lobby, there was a reminder of both Kuo’s and OMP’s community outreach with the Eugene Springfield Youth Orchestra. Its Ambassador Musician Program was represented by a string quartet — violinists Nina Vivek and Summer Yin, violists Sabine Voelker and cellists Pearl Carter — and it was a lovely prelude to the concert itself.

Once the concert began, there were more reminders of Kuo’s outreach to young musicians via the Young Soloists Competition and the maestro’s work to promote the work of composers who have been under-represented.

The first piece of the night was Primal Message by Nokuthula Ngwenyama, composed originally inn 2018 for string quartet and premiered by the Detroit Symphony in 2020 to an online audience. It is lyrically splendid, and my big wish is that it would have lasted longer.
That was followed by the Junior Division and Senior Division winners of this year’s Young Soloists Competition, a program near and dear to Kuo’s heart.

First up was violinist Sawa Yamaguchi, a 13-year-old now-Oregon resident who already has won competition prizes in Arizona. She led OMP in Felix Mendelsshohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor and looked poised beyond her years.

Next was Leo Trajano, a 16-year-old sophomore at Glencoe High School in Hillsboro. He and OMP performed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A Major. What’s striking about Trajano is his comfortable expressiveness. Throughout the piece, he looked like he was having fun.

After intermission, Kuo continued with the legacy theme, this time bringing his mentor and friend, pianist Dean Kramer, to the stage for a thrilling ride with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, the Emperor concerto.

The standing ovation at its conclusion was both deserved and, well, bittersweet. Kuo will be missed, but new chapters will be written for Oregon Mozart Players, starting next fall with the “Artistic Director Festival” where three finalists will be considered to succeed Kuo.

Until then, savor Kuo’s final concert on May 11 and wish him and Oregon Mozart Players well.