Conductor Anthony Maiello stood before 107 of the best high school music students in Montana and taught them how to play Verdi with the passion of a real Italian.

“Sing to me!” Maiello called out, as the young musicians played violins and cellos, trumpets and tympanis. “I need more garlic! More olive oil! A little basil! Sing!

“Make believe you're all Italian,” he urged. “We drink lots of wine, eat lots of garlic. Don't tell me you've never been in love. I was in love with my fourth-grade teacher.”

Maiello made exaggerated faces, swayed like a dancer, mimed terrible scratching on a violin — anything to make the students smile and put more feeling into the Nabucodonosor overture.

“No! Aaaahhh!” he cried in overdramatic horror at a wrong note. If that keeps up, “Uncle Vito will come,” he joked.

“Have you found out I'm passionate about music yet?” Maiello asked. “Come on, dance with me! Go!”

The students had come from all over Montana to play in the All-State Band, Chorus and Orchestra Festival, held in Bozeman this year. Of the nearly 400 students chosen, 46 came from Bozeman High School, picked after submitting audition tapes.

The orchestra rehearsed Thursday and Friday in Bozeman High's old library, preparing for Friday night's performance in the Montana State University Fieldhouse. Maiello told them not to be intimidated by the huge Fieldhouse, but to go out there and seize control, like Marines taking a hill.

“The conductor is amazing,” said Audrey Daniel, a bassoon player from Billings. “He really understands musicians and knows what it's like to be challenged.”

“It's an incredible opportunity” for students, said Tobin Stewart, MSU Symphony Orchestra director and chair of All-State Orchestra. “Quite often in our high schools, they never get to play this music because it's too hard. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids.”

Maybelline Green, a 15-year-old violinist from Whitefish, said she was excited to attend All-State for the first time and to meet her first real composer.

Vincent Oppido of New York was commissioned by Maiello to compose an original piece of music just for the Montana All-State students. “An American Expedition” was inspired by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Students lined up to get Oppido's signature on their scores, like he was a rock star.

“The students work very hard. They sound great,” Oppido said. “There's a lot of energy in the room.”

Mackenzie Stone, an oboe and English horn player from Billings Senior High, said it was “really fun” and “an honor” to play at All-State.

Taylor Shea, a violinist and junior from Billings West High, said he found playing for a professional conductor was very different from playing in high school.

Stephanie Anderson, a trumpet player and Bozeman High junior, said it was fun, even though she was trying to learn to play at a higher level. She said she wanted to “see how good you can play it.”

Maiello, who teaches at George Mason University in Virginia, said this was his third time conducting in Montana.

Along with his cajoling and critiquing, the conductor heaped praise on the students after they rehearsed Oppido's new work.

“You absolutely were brilliant in making the piece come alive and have meaning,” Maiello told the young musicians. “Bravo. Really — bravo.”

“I love the kids,” he said during a break. “They're just great, great people. Sincere. They work their buns off. I'm so proud of them.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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