A young take on old classics

Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra tackles the difficult classical pieces professional orchestras play

Members of the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra are held to the same standards as adult orchestras

The region’s top young musicians will illuminate the complex but timeless scores of Bach and Beethoven this Sunday, opening the 26th season of the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra.

Considered one of the best youth orchestras in Canada, musicians as young as 11 up to those pushing their late-20s will tackle up-tempo but technically demanding pieces for their first of three concerts – Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 and Holst’s “A Somerset Rhapsody.”

“The youth orchestra is primarily a training orchestra,” said musical director Yariv Aloni. “I’ve chosen pieces that are universal for every major symphony. Playing Bach or Beethoven, the demands are the exact same as a professional orchestra.”

About half of this year’s crop of 65 budding musicians are new to the GVYO, which is typical – Aloni described the orchestra as a phoenix that rebuilds itself each season.

“Every fall there’s new people. This year half the orchestra is completely new,” said Aloni, a University of Victoria music instructor who has been with the youth orchestra since 2002.

“But I’m glad to see in 10 years the level of skill hasn’t changed. I was worried I’d have to make things easier, but that’s not the case. I can always program more complex pieces.”

Aloni usually offsets one highly technical score with a few that are slightly less difficult, but he admits the three pieces selected for Sunday’s concert would keep a professional orchestra on its toes. Not that he tells the young musicians one score is more demanding than another – “if they are told it’s hard, they think it’s hard.”

“If they believe they can play it, they will play it,” he said. “I’m always amazed at the level of skill. Usually you can’t tell it’s not a professional orchestra. Sometimes it’s not exact, but most people wouldn’t know.

“For younger musicians, (musical scores) are like seeing a movie for the first time, it’s extremely exciting. The level of energy they bring is wonderful.”

Bach and Beethoven are cornerstone pieces for any symphony orchestra, but the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in particular is dear to the heart of the GVYO – it was the first piece it played in its first season in 1986.

All the pieces are energized, a necessity for an orchestra mainly made up of high school students.

“You have to figure out music that will appeal to that age. If you pick a piece that is brooding and very slow, young people will get bored,” Aloni said. “You need something that is fast. We’ve got a good mix.”

Many of the young musicians go on to careers in music, in symphonies, as chamber musicians or instructors. Virtually all make careers in music, but when they start with the GVYO, most have little experience in large ensembles.

“The goal isn’t a factory of musicians, it’s to bring joy through making music,” Aloni said.

“It’s like a living organism where they all work together. It’s 65 people moving at the same time, moving through the notes together … it’s incredible precision. To learn it is phenomenal.”

The Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra is performing on Nov. 27, 2:30 p.m., University  of Victoria Farquhar Auditorium. See www.gvyo.org for more information.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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