SAMOHI — A pair of Santa Monica High School students recently showcased their musical capabilities during a weekend of playing with some of the most talented young musicians in the country.

Emily Wong and Matthew Van Pelt, both seniors at Samohi, played as members of the 2010 American String Teachers Association National High School Honor Orchestra.

The highly-competitive group brings together the top talent from high school orchestras in each state for a national performance. This year’s showcase took place in Santa Clara, Calif. from Feb. 18 through Feb. 20.

The members of the orchestra are determined through an application process, judged by members of the American String Teachers Association and National School Orchestra Association.

The application includes a CD of a judge-determined piece — this year was Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto — along with a piece of the applicant’s choice and a resume, said Joni Swenson, the director of orchestras at Samohi.

“First they have to make the California cut and then the best students from California are sent out to the national level,” Swenson said. “They pick the most outstanding students.”

The 90-member orchestra meets once every two years. Only juniors and seniors can apply, so high school students get only one shot at making the ensemble, Swenson said.

Van Pelt, who has been playing viola since he was 8 years old, said the orchestra normally takes four violas from California.

“I was definitely not expecting to get in because it’s so competitive,” Van Pelt said. “It was pretty exhilarating.”

Wong felt the same mixture of disbelief and excitement.

“I thought [my chances] were slim to none,” Wong said. “I was not expecting it.”

Wong has played the violin for 10 years.

Both students agreed that one of the best parts of the experience was meeting the musicians from all across the country. Between the two, both members of the Samohi Symphony Orchestra and the Samohi Chamber Orchestra, they had roommates from Alaska, Alabama, Massachusetts and Arizona.

Although the pair was sad to leave their new friends, they have the remaining satisfaction of a concert well performed. Van Pelt said playing all of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1— a demanding piece for a young orchestra — went well, even after just three days of rehearsing as a group.

“On the day of the concert … it seemed like everyone came together really well,” Wong said.

Now back at school, the students are excited about the music they played and the people they met during the showcase. More than that, however, they brought a sense of pride to the Samohi music program and its six orchestras.

“I think it is a great honor to our school and also to the city of Santa Monica and really even the state that we had them represent Santa Monica in an event that is this high-powered,” Swenson said.

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