With open eyes, high school plays NY Philharmonic premiere
New York (AFP)
As far as high school achievements go, the venue could hardly be more prestigious. In a first, the New York Philharmonic tasked a high school orchestra to premiere works, bringing teenagers' fresh-eyed enthusiasm to contemporary music.
The orchestra of the Interlochen Center for the Arts, a prestigious high school and summer camp nestled in the woods of Michigan, Sunday performed four pieces at Lincoln Center as part of the Philharmonic's biennial, its showcase of original music.
The selections included "So Far So Good" by prominent composer Nico Muhly, which was accompanied by an original dance by Interlochen students, and the world premiere of "Bound to the Bow" by Ashley Fure, a challenging composer who explores extended techniques for strings such as using the wood rather than the hair of the bow.
Christopher Rountree, who conducted the students and has also led professional orchestras in premieres, said he found the experience especially rewarding due to the teenagers' eagerness and time investment.
"They really don't know what they're capable of, and what they're capable of is huge. So there is this kind of secret not to tell them that something is difficult and just do it.
"Then someone who knows it is difficult will ask, 'How did you get them to do that?'" he said.
Guiding young people who have never been involved in a world premiere, Rountree said he could also push them to their limits -- and even anger them -- to get results in a way he said would be "completely verboten" with professional musicians.
"Conducting as a job is basically, at any level, like being a coach of a sports team. And that's probably more true the younger the ensemble is," he said.
- 'Wide-eyed wonder' -
At a rehearsal before the premiere, Fure came in to offer guidance, with the teenagers politely asking her questions as they attempted her work.
"There is just this different, wide-eyed wonder," Fure, who has premiered works with adult musicians around the world, said of the students.
"They want to get it right. They don't have any other frame of reference for these techniques," she said of the unique sounds she seeks from the instruments.
Fure, a 2000 graduate of Interlochen who is an assistant professor at Dartmouth College, said that teenagers also felt few constraints whereas even university students were starting to dwell on whether music would be a profitable career.
"They have a lot more abandon, actually, in their pursuit of the music itself and in their ability to dream big and ask the big questions," she said.
The Interlochen performance marked the first premiere by a high school orchestra at the biennial, although the New York Philharmonic played concerts with an ensemble of local students, the All City High School Orchestra, in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Philharmonic approached Interlochen in hopes of adding a youth component to the biennial, said Christopher Gruits, executive director of Interlochen Presents which handles the school's concerts.
Founded in 1928, the Interlochen Center for the Arts has been a major training ground for professional musicians with past students including late Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel, acclaimed soprano Jessye Norman and the folk-pop star Jewel.
Taking advantage of the school's class structure, the Interlochen orchestra spent four months rehearsing for the biennial, far more time than a professional orchestra would devote to learning an original work.
French horn player A.J. Carter, 18, said the students faced a unique challenge with the pieces as they could not go back and listen to recordings as they would for canonical works.
"It's all so fresh. Everything is new and right in front of your eyes; you can see the process going on," he said.
"It's both thrilling and a little nerve-wracking at the same time. I'm loving it, though."
© 2016 AFP