Dramatic growth in the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan (YSO) has organizers excited about the sound that will come from their first concert this weekend in Vernon.
“We did a lot of beating the bushes and a lot of kids fell out,” said Rosemary Thomson of the symphony’s growth of up to 40 new members this season to bring the orchestra to 70 young musicians.
After 23 years of leadership, Coldstream’s Imant Raminsh has stepped down as the conductor, but has stayed on as the YSO’s composer advisor.
Thomson, who also is conductor of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, and Dennis Colpitts have stepped in to lead the youth orchestra. The pair has a vision that includes more hands-on mentorship between the OSO players and the youth symphony and bringing more equality throughout the valley by hosting practices in the South and North Okanagan.
“We are planning that in five years time, the Youth Symphony will be the go-to ensemble that every kid will want to be in. We are definitely in building mode and these kids are amazing,” said Thomson. “All these kids are practising with their teachers and playing at a very high level and we are just trying to add another set of skills. It is a tremendous amount of dedication and it is really heartwarming to see.”
The relationship with the OSO will still include side-by-side concerts where both orchestras will share the stage, but now it is more formalized. The YSO has been taken under the OSO’s wing and charitable number. Thomson said they held a meet-the-conductor session and while they had to turn some kids away because they weren’t ready this year, she said it is a great opportunity to hear the progression of the musicians.
As of now, Thomson said they recommend musicians be at least 11 or 12 years old, but they have seen players as young as 10 that are accomplished musicians and are at a Grade 6 level or higher on their instruments. There is no cutoff at the upper age, but Thomson said they wouldn’t bump a youth player over a slightly older person with more experience.
“Within a year or two, we really will be looking at high school, college and middle school kids. The idea is for the kids to come in when they are in Grade 8 and 9, depending on their level of playing, and grow and stay with us for three or four years,” said Thomson.
While it might seem overwhelming for some youth, Thomson said that is part of the process. She recalled being part of a youth symphony when she was just 10 years old playing the cello. As the youth grow with the program they gain the experience. By sticking it out until their senior years, the goal is to have players that can also help mentor younger musicians, said Thomson.
The YSO will continue to hold public performances, from which they hope to gain some proceeds to put back into the program and acquire instruments that professional players would use to loan out to the youth.
The YSO’s concert season begins this weekend with Music That Dances. Kaleden’s Misty Rose Knol will be featured on piccolo playing the cello part of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. While it might sound like a strange swap, Knol doesn’t think so.
“It is really neat because you wouldn’t think that a piece written for cello would sound good on a piccolo, but because of the playful character of the piece, it is actually really suiting to the piccolo,” said Knol. “It really shows the piccolo as a lyrical instrument. It will be really neat and a lot of listeners will be surprised at how lyrical and enjoyable the piccolo is to hear as a solo instrument, as opposed to just a high shrilling to make a more dramatic movement in the orchestra.”
Knol, who is 27, fits more on the young adult side of the orchestra and said being afforded the opportunity to perform like this is a huge benefit. She is still studying privately and auditioning for programs to increase her learning and continue to improve as a performer.
“Any opportunity to perform is a fantastic chance and playing a concerto with an orchestra is really necessary if you want to perform. This is the first time I have a chance like this and I have been wanting one for years,” said Knol. “Quite often there will be soloists throughout the community as well as within the youth orchestra. In the past, there has been adult and community players to help fill in the gaps so to speak, but with some of the changes the symphony has been able to get more involvement with the youth, which is fantastic.”
The YSO will also perform as its repertoire Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, Edward Elgar’s Three Bavarian Dances and Rodeo from U.S. composer Aaron Copland.
Saturday’s Music That Dances concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at Vernon’s Trinity United Church, 3300 Alexis Park Dr. Tickets are $15/adult, $10 youth/senior and $5/children 12 and under. They are available at the door or at the Vernon Community Music School office at 1705-32nd Ave., (250) 545-4977.
–– Kristi Patton is a reporter with the Penticton Western News.