Monday, June 02, 2008

young people today

Among young-ish orchestral musicians, "youth orchestra" can sometimes sound like an insult. We don't want to be confused with the students, eager but unseasoned, which that phrase suggests. At the New World Symphony especially, people would get quite angry over the idea that we were just another youth orchestra -- "America's Orchestral Training Academy" sounded, to some sensitive ears, like a fancy way of saying exactly that.

This is all despite the fact that youth orchestras can be quite wonderful things. For most orchestra players, our earliest inspiration to pursue this career came in a youth orchestra. There's an amazing chemistry in a room full of young people, interpreting a piece of music as though it's just been written, even though it's much older than they are. And some of the most exciting orchestras performing today -- like the Verbier Festival Orchestra, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, and New World Symphony itself (sorry, guys) -- are essentially youth orchestras.

This weekend the CPO played Mahler 1 with the Calgary Youth Orchestra, as a side-by-side deal -- the concert received a very positive review in the Herald, and also a human interest story on some parents and children taking the stage together. There was a warm feeling of generational camaraderie; the CYO kids performed with a lot of dignity and professionalism, while the CPO played with more energy and enthusiasm than we might muster on an average night.

After the Saturday concert, we had a season-ending party honoring several veteran members of the CPO, three retiring this year and another two receiving their 25-year pins. These kinds of milestones tend to make people feel philosophical, pondering all those passages of time, energy, wisdom, and tricky accidental-strewn Mahler we undergo in the course of a career. One after the other, they all said very kind, gracious things about the younger musicians who've joined the CPO in the last few years, and how they'd been motivated to give a little extra themselves, meeting all these new, enthusiastic players.

I suppose I'm one of those new members -- though already there are a lot of CPO musicians younger than me! -- and it's cool to hear that we've made a positive difference for the more senior membership. Just like there's a stereotype of young players -- raw, brash, rushing, overplaying -- there's one for older players too, and it's no less denigrating. The CPO has a lot of long-time members who are still very active musically, technically proficient and passionate about orchestral playing though. Maybe it's time to toss out the stereotypes.

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