A Grammy Award is a musician’s dream, and two alumni of North Shore High School had their dream come true.
Angelo Antinori, class of 2016, and Eileen Zhao, class of 2022, performed with the New York Youth Symphony, which won the 2023 Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance against stiff competition, including Grammy and Academy Award winner John Williams.
The two North Shore alumni contributed to the symphony’s Grammy Award, the first of any youth orchestra.
Antinori, a resident of Glen Head, has been obsessed with music since his early childhood. A drummer by trade, Antinori was the principal timpanist, or kettle drum player, for the symphony from 2019 to 2021, and is currently finishing his studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Zhao, of Glen Cove, also had an early passion for music. A violinist, she applied twice for the symphony before making it at the beginning of 2020.
Both artists attributed much of their development as musicians to the excellent training they received at North Shore.
“The North Shore High School Music Department has been absolutely incredible,” Zhao said. “Having the support of my teachers and peers really helped to develop a lot of confidence in me as well as developing my skills as a musician.”
“North Shore was a really great nurturing environment for someone who was destined to go into the arts, and I had a really great time there,” Antinori said. “I was in almost every single ensemble at the school that needed drums, which helped give me a really wide range of experience.”
In the beginning of Antinori’s second and Zhao’s first years with the symphony, the coronavirus pandemic struck, derailing the orchestral concert season. Not being able to play live music, the group recorded an album showcasing the works of three Black female composers. The album was not released until 2022 due to supply chain issues, leading to their 2023 Grammy nomination and win.
Despite their shared experiences, the two never met. The age difference meant they never interacted while at North Shore High School. The coronavirus pandemic restrictions forced the band to perform in different groups over the course of three days.
The Symphony played a combination of Florence Price’s “Ethiopia’s Shadow in America” and “Piano Concerto in One Movement,” Valeria Coleman’s “Umoja” and Jessie Montgomery’s “Soul Force.”
Both Antinori and Zhao highlighted the importance of performing the music, emphasizing the appreciation of diverse voices in a genre that has traditionally focused on composition by white men.
“All of the pieces give some type of commentary, either directly or indirectly, about the African American experience in America and all of the past trauma and generational trauma that comes with it,” Antinori said. “We have a long way to go until we live in a country where racism is a thing of the past.”
“It’s really important that we highlight this aspect of music that hasn’t received the recognition that it really should,” Zhao added. “It’s important that we help empower others and connect with the things that are going on in our world.”
North Shore music teacher and orchestra director Jason Domingo, who worked with both while they were students, was not surprised to hear of Zhao and Antinori’s success.
“They were extremely talented and extremely hardworking,” Domingo said. “Both of them were always entirely prepared, and they set the standard for what’s possible for high school musicians.”