Through a series of fortunate events, I landed myself an internship at the one-and-only Carnegie Hall for the summer. Through a series of even more fortunate events, including but not limited to: awesome bosses, incredibly talented people wanting to share their gifts with the world, and the fact that I happen to be the best intern Carnegie Hall has ever seen, I had the opportunity to attend the kick-off concert of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO USA); the army of 120 brilliant young musicians, between the ages of 16 and 19, clad in red and white striped Converse, red pants and black blazers started their tour here in New York City on Tuesday night and I was there to see it.
I have never been in a room that incites such an emotional response as the Stern Auditorium Perelman Stage, with its dim and warm lighting, soft red velvet chairs and layers of seats, a visitor cannot help but be absolutely in awe. Did you know there are virtually no right angles? — They did not want the sound to get caught anywhere.
So I walk in, and follow the usher to my seat in the 9th row! I can not imagine better seats: 9th row, directly in the center— I could not have gotten any luckier.
The Orchestra opened with “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story”, a Leonard Bernstein piece that highlights nine numbers from the show, and absolutely blew the audience away. A standing ovation after the first piece can be counted as a success, I would say.
Clearly a piece the Orchestra loves to play, Symphonic Dances is a diverse and largely upbeat composition with strong jazz elements, and gives each section a moment in the spotlight.
Next, the group was joined on stage by violinist Gil Shaham— in matching converse, of course—to perform Benjamin Britten’s “Violin Concerto, Op. 15”. This, I must admit, was my least favorite piece of the evening. Not for fault of the Orchestra, however. Redundantly improvisational, I was turned off a bit by the extreme contrast between the soloist’s rebellious and beautiful themes and the Orchestra’s stern and menacing responses.
The Orchestra’s conductor, David Robertson, was passionate and expressive—flailing about in ways only his musicians could understand. Robertson clearly connected well with his Orchestra, as is evidenced by their fine tuning and flawless performance.
After an intermission, NYO USA launched into a piece dedicated to them by the composer, Samuel Adams who was actually in attendance, which was a nice surprise. This piece, “Radial Play”, was magnificent. The young woman who introduced it explained how she experiences the piece, imagining looking through a kaleidoscope and being surrounded by a million beautiful colors, then being shrunken down to a size where everything is big and dark, loomingaround you, and then being brought back to your original size. This description is surprisingly accurate.Listen to the song below and see if you agree!
The final piece on the program was “Pictures at an Exhibition”, a Modest Mussorgsky piece. This was easily my favorite piece and was written in remembrance of the composer’s then recently deceased friend, Viktor Hartmann. The Promenade took my breath away and set the entire work up for success. A simple and regal, but melancholy melody played by a single trumpet stood alone for a moment to be joined later by the rest of the Orchestra. Each movement told of a different image spanning from a clumsy gnome to a stately castle and wrapping up with a movement inspired by Hartmann’s sketch of a city gate at Kiev.
The group received another standing ovation and responded with two encores: A Porgy and Bess medley and “America the Beautiful”. The audience was invited to sing along to America the Beautiful and it was, well, beautiful.
This was an incredible night of terrific music and unparalleled talent. It was truly a privilege to be able to experience such a gifted group of young musicians, especially in one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world.
To get a taste of the Orchestra yourself, click here for a link to a recording of “Radial Play” the piece written specifically for NYO USA!