Gillinson expresses, perhaps unwittingly, the inherent contradictions by comparing the new orchestra to the Olympics, with one difference. “In the arts,” he says, “you always win.”
In real life, of course, that isn’t true. Orchestras fail; gifted musicians struggle to make a living; fine performances are sometimes played to half-empty halls; and none of this is necessarily a reflection on quality. Gillinson concedes that the NYO-USA will partly be measured by audience reactions, reviews and — a big one — the caliber of player the ensemble succeeds in attracting. “If one attracts the finest young players, it will work,” he says. “After that, it’s what do we do with it.”
For the time being, the NYO-USA represents a rare arena in which just making it to the playing field, for the young musicians, really does involve winning. Zeynep Alpan, an 18-year-old violinist from Bethesda, has attended music school in Aspen, Colo., participated in the NSO’s fellowship program, and played with the European Union Youth Orchestra and the Afghan Youth Orchestra when they came to town. But, she says, “I have never been on a tour before with an orchestra.” And after the opening rehearsals, hearing everyone practicing together, she says, “I don’t think I’ve experienced this kind of energy in any other youth orchestra.”
Alpan, a hip-hop dancer who will go to Juilliard in the fall, could be emblematic of the NYO-USA’s well-rounded musician, as well as the third part of its mandate — the idea that young musicians can act as ambassadors to spread their love of music to their age group. If only more people knew about music — goes the thinking — they would love it; more children would flock to youth orchestras and learn discipline, citizenship and art. Alpan cites high school students who told her they were suddenly interested in hearing more classical music after hearing her chamber ensemble play a movement of Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8.
Yet contact with music is not always enough to bring about a conversion experience, which Alpan knows firsthand. Her brother, who will be in the audience Saturday, plays the violin, too, but has yet to feel the love.
“He’s going to be turning 7,” Alpan says. “He doesn’t really like it right now. He has been protesting.”
The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, led by Valery Gergiev and with Joshua Bell as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, will perform at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. The NSO National Trustees’ NSO Summer Music Institute Orchestra will perform at the venue Sunday at 6 p.m. (The second concert is free.)