Cellists Kimon and Constantine Vontas, twinss from Plainview, will be performing at Lincoln Center on Wednesday. Kimon, who recently won a competition, will be giving a solo performance. On Saturday, the brothers, seniors at John F. Kennedy High School, practiced with the Syosset-based Children's Orchestra Society. NewsdayTV's Drew Scott reports. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

The cellists Kimon and Constantine Vontas, who are 18, identical twins and seniors at Plainview-Old Bethpage’s John F. Kennedy High School, are scheduled to play at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall next week.

Kimon won the Syosset-based Children’s Orchestra Society’s prestigious Discovery Competition and will solo in front of an audience that could top 1,000 people. Nearly half the previous winners of the contest, now in its 29th year, have gone on to play professionally. Constantine did not enter the competition and will accompany his brother as a member of the society’s Young Symphonic Ensemble. 

This is not a sore spot for the two, who intend to continue playing next year when they will room together at Cornell University. 

When Kimon won, “I was really proud,” said Constantine. “I feel like Kimon has surpassed me a bit in terms of technique. His understanding of music theory is definitely above mine — over the pandemic he improved his theory skills a lot. He was always sitting at the piano, improving his aural skills. I would say we’re comparable, but he has surpassed me.” 

The Vontas brothers grew up in a musical home in Plainview. “We played the radio, we had CDs — ‘Mostly Mozart’, Classical stuff, but we also played traditional rock music that we grew up with: Beach Boys, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons,” said their mother, Chrysanthe Vontas, 54, a paralegal. Their father, Robert Vontas, 60, a purchasing supervisor for a medical laboratory, played piano, guitar and bass when he was younger.

One of Constantine’s first memories associated with music is when he and his brother were 5 or 6, singing along to a Beach Boys DVD that displayed the lyrics on the television, karaoke-style.

They started piano lessons in kindergarten and detoured briefly in middle school to the viola before settling on cello.

“People always say the cello is most like a human voice, the easiest to connect with,” said Kimon. The boys liked the cello's “deeper, richer tones, and we went to our parents and told them we’d found our instrument,” Constantine recalled. 

They talked to each other “about practice and our instruments,” Constantine said. Then, “as we got more advanced, we’d have conversations when listening to songs. We’d look at each other when an interesting passage happened. … I think we’re pretty connected that way.”

The boys were in their early teens when Chrysanthe and Robert realized the depth of their affinity for music. “They were not only excited about learning but they also had nice talent, they were able to produce nice sound,” Robert said. “They enjoyed making those sounds. You could see it in their faces, watching them perform in front of audiences.” 

High-level youth orchestra on Long Island can be crowded and competitive, an atmosphere Kimon finds distasteful.

“A lot of it is strangely concentrated in high school orchestras,” he said. “There’s this whole application and audition process — it’s not that I couldn’t get in, but I felt like everyone was out to beat each other. I really wanted to have a community, not a competition.”

They found that at the Syosset-based Orchestra Society, a nonprofit run by the pediatrician Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma and her husband, guitarist and conductor Michael Dadap. About a third of Orchestra Society alumni go on to Ivy League colleges, and Dadap sometimes encounters families he suspects of resume-building, along with those grooming their tween for a career in professional music. 

Not the Vontases, he said: “The parents do not drive their kids.” 

Ma, whose brother is the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, said that when she and Dadap met the boys about six years ago, they were “really shy.” Playing music — learning how to listen to and respond to another person — “made them more outgoing, more welcoming to other people,” she said. 

The boys chose Cornell partly because of its vibrant music community. But they do not want to go pro. Constantine has fallen in love with math, joined the school math team and fills the family home with equations scribbled on Post-it notes. 

Kimon plans to major in French. He does not know where that might take him professionally, only that he will keep playing.

Kolstein’s, the Baldwin music store, lent him a professional-grade cello and he practices one to three hours a day, shutting himself in his family’s den because its high ceiling gives good reverb.

The piece he will play at Alice Tully on May 22 is Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, one of the first cello concertos he remembers hearing — famous, he said, for its expressive range. 

“It can be intimidating to get onto the stage,” he said. “You’ll be shocked by how many people are in the audience, but once you start playing. … You’ve practiced however many times, you already know how it’s going to go.”

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