Michael Blaney calls Ottorino Respighi's "The Pines of Rome" one of the most exciting compositions written for orchestra.

And Blaney will prove it Saturday, March 3, when he conducts the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Symphony Orchestra alongside more than 140 high school string players in a performance of the piece. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. in Angelle Hall Auditorium on the university's campus. Admission is free.

The performance is an annual event called String Day, bringing together "pre-college" string musicians with their college counterparts for a day of rehearsing, performing and making friends.

"We'll have pre-college players coming in from all over the state," says Blaney, director of orchestral activities at UL-Lafayette. "When we add them to the orchestra, we'll have about 200 string players onstage, and that's a powerful sound."

The symphony has been hosting String Day since 2002.

"It's taken off from day one," Blaney says. "It's a fun day for them, and they play two string pieces with us."

Completed in 1924, Respighi's "The Pines of Rome" depicts pine trees in four locations in the city at different times of the day. The composition was written as a four-part tone poem, which highlights every part of the orchestra.

"There's also a part of off-stage brass," Blaney says. "We'll be featuring our brass faculty on that."

Other concert highlights will include Dmitri Shostakovich's wild and fast "Festive Overture" and Johannes Brahms' "Double Concerto," featuring Blaney soloing on violin with new string faculty member Molly Goforth on cello.

Goforth is a music educator based in Lafayette. She is the principal cellist of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and the Lake Charles Symphony. She also is a member of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra and Magnolia Strings.

Blaney is in his 22nd year heading the university's orchestra program. He has performed solo violin recitals throughout the country and soloed with several orchestras, including the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and Acadiana Symphony Orchestra. He also was a member of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra from 1993 to 1996 and has performed with Acadiana since 1996.

Blaney teaches string instrument clinics throughout the state, often inviting participants to String Day. Students participating in the All-State program also are invited, and invitations are extended to high school string programs.

"What's hard is that there are a lot of band and choral programs but not as many string program at the schools," Blaney says. "We're hoping that will change in the future. We'll be having auditions for our program during breaks in the day, so this is always a plus for us and a fun day for pre-college string students."

For more information, call (337) 482-6012.

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