For five years now, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (or NYO-USA for short) has been providing teenagers the opportunity to hone their music skills with professional musicians, culminating in a performance at Carnegie Hall and an international tour. Last year, Carnegie's Weill Music Institute expanded the initiative with a new program for even younger musicians, called NYO2. Made up of kids aged 14-17 from a diverse set of backgrounds - often from communities without classical music training opportunities - the fellows spent three weeks in residence at Purchase College in Westchester where they rehearsed with musicians from some of the top orchestras in the country, including more than a dozen from the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The program culminated Thursday night with a performance at Carnegie Hall that featured the Philadelphia musicians playing alongside their younger counterparts. For the first part, they were joined onstage by the ebullient Esperanza Spalding, here playing electric bass. Spalding, who in her younger days was the concertmaster of her local community orchestra, performed several of her own compositions, along with a cover of Wayne Shorter's "Endangered Species", to which she added her own lyrics. In between songs, she gushed about how amazing the kids were in rehearsal, and tried her best to get the audience to start a dance party with the rocking "Good Lava" from last year's Emily's D+Evolution.
For their encore, the Philadelphians all left the stage, leaving the kids to play Bernstein's Candide overture on their own. Could there have been a better choice? At turns tender and bombastic, lyrical and frenetic, it had both the exuberance of youth and the resonance of deep musical maturity. And, they nailed it. No doubt Lenny - music's peerless Pied Piper - was smiling down on them.
There were more wild cheers afterwards, but none louder or more demonstrative than those coming from one of the side boxes, where Spalding, unmistakable in her outsized 'fro, was pumping her first and shouting at the top of her voice. She knew how hard these kids had worked for this, and wanted to make sure that they relished the moment. Man, that's the kind of enthusiasm we need to see more of at places like Carnegie. Esperanza: if the singing gig ever gets old, I'm sure there's an orchestra or two which would love to talk to you.
More pics on the photo page.