Youth orchestra embraces ‘huge honor’
Ninety students settle into their seats, loudly finishing their lunchtime conversations.
Teren Shaffer, Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra associate conductor, stands in the front of the room, rhythmically tapping his conductor’s baton on the palm of his hand.
“Sorry we had to do pizza today,” Shaffer said. “How about next time we arrange for some Chipotle?”
The rehearsal hall suddenly erupts with yelps of excitement, scattered applause and the random blurt of a tuba.
Even after being chosen personally by a world-renowned composer to perform a new work, this talented group of 13- to 20-year-olds is still easily excited by the thought of Chipotle for lunch.
Daniel Wachs, music director and conductor, has been with the OCYSO for six seasons and was overjoyed when his youth orchestra was offered the opportunity to premiere Mark-Anthony Turnage’s latest piece, “Frieze,” on the West Coast. The New York Philharmonic performed the U.S. premiere of the piece last fall.
“Turnage is such a world-famous composer, and on the West Coast, we’re more of a modern music scene than the more traditional East Coast. So frankly, I think the West Coast premiere will be big,” Wachs said. “Plus the fact that our youth are performing this … it’s momentous.”
Many of the students saw the world premiere of Turnage’s piece performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in London last summer. In an effort to re-create that experience for a Southern California audience, the OCYSO will be playing the same program in the finale concert for the Orange County Philharmonic Society, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary May 15at the Segerstrom Center in Coast Mesa.
“One of the largest supporters of the OCYSO is the Philharmonic Society of Orange County,” Shaffer said. “They are celebrating their 60th anniversary and also the retirement of their president, Dean Corey. To underscore Dean Corey and the Philharmonic Society’s commitment to education and to youth, they gifted the OCYSO with the opportunity to present the season finale concert, which is a huge, huge honor.”
With the previous two professional orchestral acts to live up to, Shaffer and Wachs have been preparing the students for this performance for a year and said the process has been demanding for the students.
“They’ve done an excellent job, but it has been an enormous undertaking and an enormous challenge,” Shaffer said. “New music in general, because you can’t listen to it, there’s no sound concept for it. … It’s more challenging to rehearse something like that. It’s been really fun for the students but it has been very, very challenging. We’ve come a long way in not a lot of time.”
What makes Turnage’s piece so groundbreaking and unique, said Shaffer, is the modern and contemporary sounds that are mixed into it.
“Traditional orchestra is the strings, the winds, the brass and percussion. But Turnage, in his piece, requires all sorts of extra forces and instruments that aren’t traditionally a part of it, so it’s a much bigger piece,” he said.
Aside from their once-a-week Sunday practices at Chapman University, the students put in hours of at-home practice time in preparation for the big night. That sometimes proves difficult for those juggling an already grueling school load.
Bassist Chloe Hopper, 16, of Dana Hills High School says she had to overcome many obstacles to learn Turnage’s piece.
BY KIRAN KAZALBASH