New faces and new programs enhance the Empire State Youth Orchestra experience

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Approximately 600 children from the greater Capital and western New England area receive musical inspiration and instruction from the Empire State Youth Orchestra, an umbrella organization now in its 42nd year that includes 12 ensembles and a choir.

Four new people have been added to the roster this season and will continue to lead the high standards of the groups. None are more influential than Andres Rivas, who will lead the Empire State Youth Orchestra during the season’s opening concert Friday, November 5 at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

“I’m having a fantastic time with the students,” Rivas said.

Rivas, who at 31 is also deputy conductor of Orchestra Now based at Bard College, succeeds Carlos Agreda, who was ESYO’s musical director. Agreda will be returning to direct the Melodies of Christmas show.

To some extent, it’s no surprise that Rivas was chosen as the guest conductor. A native of Venezuela, he grew up in the famous El Sistema program founded in 1975 by Jose Antonio Abreu, which produced the incredibly talented Gustavo Dudamel, the musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a frequent visitor to the orchestra. young Venezuelans.

Rivas, also a talented violinist and member of the orchestra, dreamed of becoming a conductor. It was during a concert in 2011 that Dudamel handed him over to direct, which he repeated months later during a tribute concert when Rivas shared the podium with Dudamel.

So how did he get to Bard College?

“Leon Botstein [president of Bard College and conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra] went to Venezuela to conduct Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony, ”Rivas said. “He invited me to come to Bard to work at the Conductor’s Institute and I loved the program.

When Rivas expressed interest in getting his masters degree at Bard in conducting, Botstein agreed and in 2017 he graduated. The following year, he became first violin of Orchestra Now. His talents as a conductor had also caught Agreda’s attention.

“A couple of years ago Carlos asked me to do an ESYO section rehearsal for him at Brown School,” Rivas said. “He knew I lived in Red Hook just an hour’s drive away and he loved my job.”

It turned out that children too.

Now that Rivas has been in rehearsal since September 8 with ESYO, he’s discovered a few things about working with most high school kids and struggling with social distancing on stage.

“Youth orchestras are used to more gestures, especially from their own music director, so having a new conductor with new role models takes time. The winds are all dispersed while the ropes are close, so it’s hard to get along, ”he said. “Everyone is masked, including during rehearsals, which is a drag, even for me. It’s exhausting, I can’t breathe.

“And the program Carlos chose, I thought Arturo Marquez’s ‘Danzon’ would be the easiest because of the rhythms. It’s played all over the world, especially in Latin America, but it turned out to be the trickiest. And Jennifer Higdon’s “Light” – her structure is not common, she is unique. But children are delighted to play Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. They play differently. They are so thrilled that they heard the piece.

Surprisingly, he knows the acoustics of the Troy Hall because seven years ago an orchestra he was in played there.

“The Troy Room is out of this world,” Rivas said.

Bellino at the head of the youth jazz orchestra

The next concert on the calendar is November 20, also at the venue, with the Youth Jazz Orchestra, now conducted by jazz trumpeter Peter Bellino. Grammy-nominated trumpeter Michael Rodriguez will be the guest.

“This is my first time leading a big band,” Bellino said with a laugh.

A long-time player with artists who have credits all over the world, Bellino has taught locally at various colleges, but this job is as much about learning a style of music as it is about evolving it.

“I selected a standard repertoire like Ellington, Strayhorn, Miles Davis to get them to agree on how to rehearse, pitcher, style,” Bellino said. “Jazz is a sound art. If it’s not moving, then stop and solve it. “

While some of his musicians are “of a very high standard”, Bellino wants to make sure that they all know what the different styles of jazz look like, what the different grooves or tempos create, as well as being able to read the different styles. charts.

“I am fascinated by the beginnings of jazz, blues, field songs. And I’m a huge fan of Miles Davis and his growth as a player and a leader, ”he said. “We’re also going to do some funk.”

Bellino expects to cover theory and harmony – necessities for anyone who has to improvise and for bassists who need to establish a solid line.

“Jazz is a beautiful art form. It connects to our soul, pulls on your heart. And it’s made in America, ”he said.

CHIME, young leaders program

There are two other programs that are recent additions to the list. The CHIME (Creating Harmony Inspiring Musical Excellence) program began in 2015 for the benefit of young children, especially from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, with an instrument and free music lessons. The 2019 Young Leaders program is for any ESYO member to volunteer in community projects, such as performing in nursing homes, hosting workshops and conferences to help advance their careers. Zoe Auerbach is the new director of both programs.

“My background is in education from a philosophical point of view and how it can approach issues of equity,” Auerbach said. “I rely on this daily. “

Some goals this season are to increase enrollments in the CHIME program to one hundred or more students, which declined last year due to the pandemic. She also wants to strengthen partnerships with schools where lessons can be given. Currently, programs are offered in several districts of Schenectady, at Troy’s Oakwood Community Center and at Albany’s Hackett Middle School.

“I want to remove the barriers that limit some students and equalize access, which some families do not have, to things such as offering lessons and instruments,” she said.

Coordinate everything

Overseeing all programs is what David Bebe will do as ESYO’s first Director of Education. Longtime cellist and teacher, most recently at the College of Saint Rose, Bebe has a passion for teaching.

“I want to create enrichment opportunities to enhance the music experience,” he said. “Specifically, to help students who want to pursue a career in music and interact and inspire those who couldn’t. My role among all the ensembles and CHIME, Young Leaders and any new program is how they interact and the path of the sequences they follow.

So how does a young trumpeter, for example, go from his first lessons to integration into a group, then progress through the trumpet section to another more experienced or skillful group to decide. whether it is a music school or other career path Should be taken. Along the way, how does each of the musical directors or teachers guide this trumpeter?

“What are the needs and demands and how ESYO, orchestra and musicians interact with other ensembles and how connected are they,” Bebe said. “How to design a group study program as a group as the player travels.” “

Bebe said he wanted a greater sense of community and a more shared musical experience and goals. He also wants to help parents clarify how to help their children pursue their musical interests when it comes to auditions or the development of the discipline to be practiced.

“In other words, how to go from ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ to Tchaikovsky,” Bebe said.

Bebe has already put his ideas into practice. Hired in July, he started a two-week summer chamber ensemble ‘camp’ where ESYO members formed small ensembles such as a wind quintet or small string orchestra – all led by students. They also had sight-reading sessions, hikes, visited the Tanglewood Music Center, and the brass had a technical workshop.

“The children were hungry for it. You could see the fire in their eyes, ”he said.

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