CRESTVIEW — Cellist Lucas Kornegay's hands were a blur as he sawed the bow back and forth across his cello. Keeping pace with the demanding overture from Rossini's "William Tell" is a challenge for any cellist.
For the fifth-grader, playing with the Sinfonietta Strings before a packed Emerald Coast Convention Center might be pressure in itself. Ramping up the familiar piece of music to its almost pop-like "Billy Tell Overture" variation makes it an even greater challenge.
But Lucas, an Antioch Elementary School student, was ready.
"We like having the opportunity to play in front of people," he said following Sinfonia Gulf Coast's youth string ensemble's March 29 performance, which opened for Broadway star Patti LuPone.
Sinfonietta is the newly formed Sinfonia Youth Orchestra's training orchestra, director Liz Aylor said.
"We want to get the kids to the point where they can move up to the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra," she said.
Aylor has had Lucas in her groups for more than two years, with performances at Universal Studios and Walt Disney World in Orlando. She praised his progress and his mom, Angela Kornegay's, support.
"He's doing great. He's progressed so fast. I was really pleased," Aylor said. "His mother comes to every lesson. I can't say enough about how much she has been such a part of his progression."
Aylor prepared the ensemble well for their recent performance, although Lucas said he was aware that his audience included a Broadway diva.
"I wasn't scared at all," he said. "I was surprised I wasn't."
"He enjoys life, that's for sure," Aylor said. "He's one of those (students) that makes you enjoy teaching. When you see that joy, you know it's worth every minute."
Change of venue
Aylor directed youth orchestras, including the popular High Voltage electric string orchestra, which she hopes to reform under Sinfonia, for the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra.
"Going with the Sinfonia and (artistic director) Demetrius Fuller was a godsend," she said. "Who also can say they're an opening act for Patti LuPone? These kids were amazed they opened for a Broadway star."
"At the beginning, I had butterflies in my stomach but by the middle I was having a good time," Sinfonietta's youngest member, Landon Baugh of Shalimar, 9, said.
During their LuPone opener, Aylor guided the ensemble through a medley of pieces from the "Harry Potter" film scores and orchestral versions of Rufus Wainwright's "Hallelujah" and Smash Mouth's "All Star," both of which were featured in the film "Shrek."