Symphony celebrates Altoona

Concert pianist Anthony Cornet remembers in the mid-90s when he was about 6 years old attending a concert of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra.

That season a piano concerto soloist accompanied the symphony orchestra at every concert, he said.

“I can remember being absolutely stunned, because I was only playing two- or three-minute pieces at the time and here was this soloist playing a big, in some cases 40-, 50-minute piano concerto, and I thought that was absolutely impossible and it was something that was more or less a gift people had as opposed to something that one could actually work toward so I thought, ‘Oh, that’s just impossible, that’s not feasible,'” he said Tuesday.

On Saturday, Cornet will take the seat where those mystical maestros of his childhood once sat.

The Altoona native is appropriately the guest artist in the final concert of the ASO’s 2013-14 season, “Powerful Finale Celebrating the Spirit of this Great City, Altoona.”

The table turning “really means a lot” to Cornet, he said. The moment is “sort of a testament to the work I’ve done, but also the teachers and friends and families that have supported and helped me all the years.”

Cornet, 24, said his father, Rick Cornet, a local piano teacher, introduced him to music.

“I owe much of my success to those early years studying with my dad. Everything from Carnegie Hall to this Saturday’s performance stems from his early patience and dedication with me at the piano,” Cornet said.

Cornet, a 2008 Altoona Area High School graduate, debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2012, the same year he graduated from Temple University Esther Boyer College of Music and Dance, Philadelphia.

He is attending Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, in pursuit of a master’s degree.

In the fall, Cornet will start a fully funded doctorate in music at Shenandoah University in Virginia, where he will get to work with world-famous pianist and faculty member John O’Conor, he said.

The music for the ASO concert Saturday at the Mishler represents “two of the best known works from the Romantic period of classical music,” Maestra Teresa Cheung said in an email. “Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is an all time favorite of anyone that enjoys piano music, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 is probably one of the most well known works by the composer, with heaping beautiful melodies from beginning to end.”

“I think this is a rather fitting way to close our concert, with beautiful melodies and a wonderful local young artist, Anthony Cornet,” she added.

Over the six seasons Cheung has headed the symphony orchestra, she feels she has “gotten to know Altoona and the wonderful people in town,” she said.

When asked how the city’s sprit is handling the rough times of late, Cheung said, “I think it is fair to say that both the city and the rest of the world have had rough times of late. The world is moving forward at an unbelievable pace and it is leaving everyone breathless. It seems like we are barely able to catch up.”

While the city has gone through changes in the last few decades, it is looking to the future, Cheung said.

“I am impressed by the resilience of our citizens, and how hard they work to preserve the values that they hold true,” she said. “People are extremely giving and community oriented, and they value the arts and treasure things that have intrinsic values. They are very mindful to maintaining strong family values and cultivating their future generations. All these are great attributes of the people in the city.”

Cornet is an example of that giving spirit.

For several years, he has performed the concert series “A Special Evening with Pianist Anthony Michael Cornet” to raise money for numerous organizations, including the ASO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Blair County and the Miracle League of Blair County.

He is planning another fundraising concert next season, he said.

“Altoona has so many merits going for it, especially the symphony in particular. We’re very fortunate here in Altoona to have a symphony or ensemble that is the quality it is, in addition to being directed by Maestra Cheung,” he said. “I have nothing but good memories of Altoona and the people I grew up with and such a loveable place to grow up in Central PA.”

The people of Altoona “are rather low key and modest with their achievements,” and Cheung has heard numerous times how the ASO is a best-kept secret, she said.

“If one looks around in cities similar to Altoona in the US, one will be hard pressed to find another city that has their own regional level symphony orchestra,” she said. “I feel strongly that it is the orchestra’s responsibility to share the secret with the rest of the country. In a world where arts are being left out from school curriculum, and when people tend to place their value on things that are short lived, it is all the more important to let the world know that the arts still matter in Altoona.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.