The Importance of YOUTH in Youth Orchestra
A little over two weeks ago I finished my first ever visit to Portugal (I know, very ironic considering I have been in many places of the world and Portugal is next to Spain…). There I was conducting at the 9th Festival of the National Youth Orchestra; since then I have been lucky enough to spend a few days at home visiting my family, resting and catching up on some sleep. Now, routine in London, although exciting, has kicked up again, and the wonderful experience I had in that small town of Figueira da Foz already feels like a distant, yet very vivid memory… Amidst my holidays, my family and friends, and many hours of solitude in a few airports, I have had time to reflect and think about the year so far. I was thinking about how my career is shaping up, what I want to continue to achieve not just as musician but also as a human, and about many other important factors of musical relevance, and some others not so important. In all of this, one thing is very clear: I have not been able to stop thinking about my time in Portugal with all of those wonderful young talented musicians. I am hoping that in this blog, and with a few reflections, I can shine some light on why this experience seems to have been so profoundly meaningful to me.
Those who know me well know the deep admiration I have always had for Leonard Bernstein. For me he was more than a wonderful composer and a great conductor; he lived through music and exemplified the spirit of commitment of a world class musician with the future generations. His gestures, words, his character… music was a part of all of them, and with each one of his concerts, public appearances or compositions there was a clear intention for music to change people, to make a difference. He was particularly keen on carrying this message to youth, and very successfully created initiatives such as the Young People´s Concerts and the Tanglewood Music Festival. I myself was watching not long ago one of his shows on Holst´s The Planets as I prepare my next concert with London City Orchestra. These initiatives have created not only wonderful generations of talented musicians but have also impregnated many citizens with a love for music. We are forever grateful to him for his lasting legacy!
When I arrived to Figueira da Foz about three weeks ago I was very excited to work with all of these young musicians. They were nervous and excited at the same time; the repertoire was not easy (Stravinsky´s Firebird, Korsakov´s Capriccio Espagnol and two violin concertos performed by two highly talented young players). The expectations were high. I soon met an extraordinary team of coaches who throughout the week showed their technical expertise and diligent coaching experience. Most importantly, throughout the week they showed their love for teaching and their love and dedication to all of the kids. On a conscious or subconscious level this did not go unnoticed by me or by any of the participants in the festival. Their contribution is not only helpful but essential for the festival, as is the contribution of its artistic director, Maestro Cristiano Silva. By the end of the week I truly felt I had gained some wonderful new friends, and I am convinced that the mastery with which Maestro Silva has devised the whole course of the festival has a lot to do with its success: two very different programmes being worked on at the same time, one purely classical and the other one of interdisciplinary musical content (this year a concert of symphonic rock with the legendary Portuguese band UHF – a recipe for a lot of fun from day 1)
Maestro Silva also lives music and this is apparent when you meet him and see him in action. The way with which he interacts with the young performers creates a perfect working environment for them, and made it very easy for me to create a balance of hard work and great fun. And I realised that contrary to what a lot of conductors think or are taught, just because I interacted with them outside the concert hall on a more human level, I did not lose authority or respect from any of them. Moreover, I think it was in some of these outside moments with all of the coaches and performers that I began to feel this connection with the orchestra in a way every conductor wants to connect; and then I understood the importance of YOUTH in Youth Orchestra.
There I was, parading the streets of Figueira marching along and playing on a borrowed French horn (attempting my best shot at traditional Portuguese folklore tunes) with many of the performers in the orchestra. There I was, playing in the swimming pool with all of them and throwing around the pool the very young (but extremely gifted) violinist who a few days later would walk with me on stage to perform Vivaldi´s Concerto. There I was, attempting my best at communicating in a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese (“Portuñol” they called it), so that I could learn a few words to take back with me (“fofinho” arguably my favourite) …
In this moment of reflection, I now recognise the familiarity of all of these events and why this festival has marked me so much:
- 2003, Cordoba and Granada, Spain. The Pablo Sarasate Youth Orchestra goes on tour to the South of Spain performing Schuman’s 3rd Symphony. I am playing first horn, it has a very difficult solo, but we are having a great time and all of my colleagues are supportive of me and we are getting to know each other very well. Concert was a success. I was 14 years old.
- 2004, Detmold, Germany, International Summer Camp for Young Performers, organised and sponsored by The Rotary Club: over 15 nationalities struggling to understand each other and attempting any way they can to communicate with one another do get to understand each other no problem through music. I was 16 years old.
- 2005, San Diego, United States. International Summer Festival San Diego Youth Symphony. We are all playing together in the swimming pool and enjoying the great California weather the day before our big concert. It has been a great week of music making and of great experiences. I was 17 years old. I still stay in touch with many of the people I met then, and it was the beginning (although I then did not know it) of my 6 years living and studying in the US.
- 2008, Houston, Texas (USA). Texas Music Festival. A few of the performers from more than 7 nationalities decide to put on an extra concert together (if the 5 already in the festival were not enough). I do not think it twice and I put myself forward to conduct Marquez´s Danzón No. 2 in the programme. I was 19 years old, it is the first time I conducted in a concert hall.
- 2010, Eibar, Euskadi, Spain. Spanish Northern Youth Orchestra. A few of us decide to play folklore music on the streets to raise a bit of money for our countless social evenings. We parade alongside the streets of the town of Eibar with myself conducting. I was 22 years old.
The musician I am today, who loves music so much and cannot conceive doing anything else, grew up enjoying his youth through music. For me music has shaped who I am, as also have my family and my friends. When I interacted with all of those wonderful and talented musicians in Portugal this summer, my subconscious connected me again with all of those old and wonderful memories.
During my time with the Orquestra Nacional de Jovens I experience the importance of inspiring the YOUTH of a youth orchestra, and the importance of continuing to work with young and passionate people, regardless of their technical ability. I can confidently say that those days in Portugal made me a better musician, as well as better person, and I am very thankful to each and every one of the players in the orchestra for sharing a part of their summer with me.