“The important thing that we emphasize,” says Ulysses S. James, the music director of the orchestra’s parent organization, the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, “is that this is something you can do your whole life.”
This creates a subtle difference in the NYO-USA’s makeup. James Ross, the conductor charged with preparing the musicians for Gergiev’s arrival, during nearly two weeks of rehearsals, is no stranger to young orchestras; the head of the orchestral program at U-Md., he also led the National Orchestral Institute there for 11 years. The NYO-USA, he says, is “not as intensely pre-professional as NOI or the New World Symphony.” But, he said in an e-mail after the first rehearsals, “it is serving a different kind of purpose in the lives of our participants — more inspirational.”
Local youth orchestras, even top-flight ones, can’t act on the same scale. “I think we . . . provide the steady, constant training that musicians need,” says Margaret Adams, the executive director of the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras, widely considered the flagship of the D.C.-area youth orchestra programs. “If it were not for what we were doing, these other organizations probably would not be able to recruit at the level they’re recruiting.”
But the AYPO hasn’t toured for some time; its annual operating budget is about $630,000. By contrast, Carnegie Hall — although it won’t give a figure for individual projects — plans to raise $10 million for the first five years of the NYO-USA program, with donors including Bloomberg, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, and Ronald O. Perelman. Many youth orchestras charge tuition; the NYO-USA is paying all the players’ expenses.
Youth orchestras get to have it both ways. If they play brilliantly, they get accolades; if they do not, they get points for inspiring young players. The NYO-USA is trying to be many things, to many people: the best players, yet the most well-rounded; a national orchestra, but heading to Russia with a heavily Russian program and a Russian conductor (although with a new piece by the young American composer Sean Shepherd, called “Magiya,” Russian for “magic”).