New youth or­ches­tra – well, 4 – warm­ing up

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY LAWRENCE TOPPMAN Arts cor­re­spon­dent

When Ernest Pereira stopped con­duct­ing the Char­lotte Sym­phony’s stu­dent or­ches­tras this year, he didn’t ex­pect the goin­g­away present some par­ents would give him. An or­ches­tra. Four or­ches­tras, ac­tu­ally. The Char­lotte Sym­phony an­nounced in March that, af­ter 30 years, Pereira would no longer lead its Youth Or­ches­tra and Ju­nior Youth Or­ches­tra: Pres­i­dent/CEO Mary Deissler said the CSO “wanted to take the youth or­ches­tras in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion,” and that new res­i­dent con­duc­tor Christo­pher James Lees would take over. (Pereira con­tin­ues to hold the non-ro­tat­ing fourth chair of the Sym­phony’s first vi­o­lin sec­tion.)

Within days, stu­dent mu­si­cians and par­ents fed Face­book out­rage and be­gan a pe­ti­tion to do some­thing. “Some­thing” turned out to be the Youth Or­ches­tras of Char­lotte, which will spot­light 200 stu­dent mu­si­cians in their YOC Fam­ily Con­cert Tues­day at Hal­ton The­ater.

Mean­while, the Char­lotte Sym­phony main­tained its stu­dent or­ches­tras, now called the Youth Or­ches­tra and Youth Phil­har­monic. (The lat­ter is a prepara­tory or- ches­tra.) Lees over­sees more than 100 young mu­si­cians – re­cruited through pub­lic and pri­vate schools and lo­cal teach­ers – and they’ll give a Belk The­ater con­cert of Rossini, Bizet and Haydn Dec. 1. Lees of­fers a pos­i­tive spin on the split: “We think the city is large enough that there can be lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties for high-qual­ity mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion.”

A few hardy stu­dents play in both youth or­ches­tras, which re­hearse on dif­fer­ent nights.

The jour­ney from protests to per­for­mances took YOC lead­ers less than eight months. They say they have roughly dou­bled the $25,000 in their sav­ings ac­count

and em­barked on a “friends and fam­ily chal­lenge” to raise an ad­di­tional $ 75,000 to $100,000. They’ve cre­ated not only the Youth Or­ches­tra of Char­lotte and a Prepara­tory Or­ches­tra but also a Flute Choir and Sin­fo­nia Strings, two groups the CSO didn’t of­fer. (Each will play at Hal­ton.)

The YOC went to th­ese ex­tremes to keep Pereira, who es­ti­mates 80 per­cent of the play­ers in his sym­phony youth or­ches­tra fol­lowed him to his new job.

“We didn’t do this Ernest but of him,” says Jeanna Nor­ris, whose daugh­ter Anna plays in the string sec­tion of the YOC’s top group. “Like all par­ents, we were work­ing to get what’s best for our kids.”

Anna, a South Meck­len­burg High School se­nior, has played for Pereira for seven years. Her mom has been on the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the par­ents’ as­so­ci­a­tion – the one that backed CSO youth or­ches­tras and now sup­ports the YOC – for four years and been pres­i­dent for three. The big­gest change, Jeanna Nor­ris says, was print­ing new T-shirts for mu­si­cians to wear.

Re­hearsals take place, as al­ways, at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church on Park Road. The mae­stro, soft­spo­ken and pony-tailed at 60, re­mains a calm but firm pres­ence on the podium. Reper­toire con­tin­ues to test young play­ers, be­cause Pereira be­lieves “You set the bar high. It’s good for them to have goals, and the bet­ter play­ers will lift the oth­ers.”

A na­tive of South Africa, Pereira joined the CSO in 1985 en route to a doc­tor­ate from the Univer­sity of Texas and be­gan to con­duct stu­dent mu­si­cians three years later. His DNA pre­pared him for the task: His grand­fa­ther was a school­teacher, his grand­mother taught pi­ano, his fa­ther was an English pro­fes­sor, and his mother taught vi­o­lin.

“I loved it right away,” he says. “See­ing young peo­ple de­velop a skill and a love for mu­sic that will stay with them, whether they play pro­fes­sion­ally or not – that has al­ways been sat­is­fy­ing.

“The main thing I’ve learned over the years is pa­tience. You have to bring ev­ery­one along, to go at the pace of who­ever needs ex­tra work. Some­times I’ll talk to their (mu­sic teach­ers) about pre­par­ing them for dif­fi­cult pas­sages out­side re­hearsals. I pro­gram pieces that will sound good in con­cert but also chal­lenge them to im­prove.”

HE ‘PUSHES US’

The all-Amer­i­can pro­gram for Tues­day in­cludes Aaron Co­p­land’s “Rodeo,” with its tricky cow­boyin­spired rhythms; two sec­tions from Mor­ton Gould’s “Sym­phonette No. 2”; Bern­stein’s “Can­dide” over­ture; Bar­ber’s “Ada­gio for Strings” and the first move­ment of Bar­ber’s tax­ing Vi­o­lin Con­certo, with con­cert­mas­ter Caro­line Smoak as soloist.

Per­cus­sion­ist Zach Cath­cart, a 10th-grader at Hick­ory Ridge High School in Har­ris­burg, says Pereira “drives us for­ward: He wants us to play well but pushes us be­yond our com­fort lev­els. When I be­gan, I was com­fort­able with (the ba­sic me­ters of) 2/4 and 4/4. Then I started read­ing com­pli­cated mixed-me­ter mu­sic. By the time I played Sain­tSaens’ ‘Bac­cha­nal,’ I was shocked to see how far I had come.”

“He fo­cuses on ev­ery sec­tion, be­cause he knows that if the lower strings and brass are in tune, that will help the higher strings and wood­winds,” says home-schooled cel­list Kristi Roller, who has played for him for four years. “He knows the sound he wants, and he speaks in ways stu­dents can un­der­stand in or­der to get it.”

Vi­o­lin­ist An­drew DeWeese, who has played per­haps 15 con­certs for Pereira over four years, be­lieves the con­duc­tor’s drilling and at­ten­tion to de­tail im­proves aca­demic per­for­mance, too. “It helps your work ethic,” says DeWeese, a Char­lotte Latin School ju­nior. “You’re en­joy­ing what you’re play­ing, and you be­come more dis­ci­plined.”

Pereira now con­ducts chil­dren of mu­si­cians he ed­u­cated long ago. Some alums have gone on to con­ser­va­to­ries, or­ches­tra po­si­tions and teaching jobs; one played in the Chiara String Quar­tet, one in the “Satur­day Night Live” band. Tay­lor Marino, whom he re­calls fondly, will join the Char­lotte Sym­phony this win­ter as prin­ci­pal clar­inetist.

Cel­list Christina Beek­man, who played for Pereira for seven years, went to Carnegie Hall on the Char­lotte Sym­phony Youth Or­ches­tra’s first trip in 2002. (The group went back in 2017.) Now she di­rects her own stu­dents to Pereira, not just be­cause of mu­si­cal train­ing but for the be­hav­ior he in­stills:

“Open­ing up your ears to the world of sound around you, (so) an­other part of the brain is chal­lenged. The tenac­ity to keep go­ing, even if the group has left you be­hind. The in­tegrity of know­ing your part in­side and out, so when it is your turn, you don’t let your or­ches­tra down. … I want my stu­dents to have the same pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence I had so many years ago, (which is why) I’m send­ing them to YOC.”

Now, in the first flush of ex­pan­sion, YOC lead­er­ship has to de­velop a fi­nan­cial plan for longterm sur­vival.

Nor­ris wants to take the or­ches­tra on the road as soon as pos­si­ble: Par­ents helped un­der­write the 2017 Carnegie trip and have the taste of that glory in their mouths. She wants to ex­pand Au­gust’s three­day in­ten­sive YOC mu­sic camp, pos­si­bly to a five­day one like that held at Con­verse Col­lege in the old days. “We need broader fi­nan­cial sup­port, so we have to reach out to a big­ger uni­verse,” she says.

Pereira says he en­joys more pro­gram­ming free­dom, as long as he and or­ches­tra man­ager Chris Ry­del don’t go far over bud­get, and the un­der­stand­ing that he needn’t leave un­til he’s ready to pass the ba­ton.

“It’s been great to see more in­volve­ment from the par­ents,” he says. “They’re not just drop­ping kids off for re­hearsals or hand­ing out lunches. They im­me­di­ately or­ga­nized, and they would not go gen­tly into that good night.”

PHO­TOS BY JOSHUA KOMER

Ernest Pereira leads the Youth Or­ches­tras of Char­lotte. Says a stu­dent: “He wants us to play well but pushes us be­yond our com­fort lev­els.”

The wood­winds sec­tion of the Youth Or­ches­tras of Char­lotte prac­tices in the chapel at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church.

JOSHUA KOMER

Youth Or­ches­tras of Char­lotte mem­bers pre­pare for their first con­cert, which is Tues­day. The all-Amer­i­can pro­gram in­cludes Aaron Co­p­land’s “Rodeo.”

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