Music, Preview, Youth

A Denver Youth Orchestra Hits the Road

An article by Marc Shulgold

For an ensemble of musicians still in their teens and 20s, the premier Denver youth orchestra, Denver Young Artists Orchestra (DYAO) has certainly covered the waterfront. They’ve performed along the Front Range for more than three decades, and toured Europe and South America.

Denver Young Artists Orchestra

Denver Young Artists Orchestra

But the orchestra’s executive director Peter Hellyer had to draw the line at playing atop a refrigerator unit at Cherry Creek’s Whole Foods. “It’s not really a stage – more like a performance space, which was OK. But we wondered how we’d get a harp up there, ” a bemused Hellyer recalled. And so, that invitation was declined.

Ah, but things worked out at the Belmar Whole Foods outlet, which successfully hosted small groups of players on terra firma in the deli section for a series of weekend gigs late last year. “One shopper was so delighted by the kids, he asked about our next appearance, so he’d be sure to drop by the store,” Hellyer said.

Local music lovers aren’t the only ones excited by this talented ensemble: Europeans have turned out in droves when the DYAO toured the continent in previous years – and will likely do so again during this year’s summer tour, Hellyer predicted.

On June 9, a touring ensemble of 60 or so current and former players, ranging in age from 12 to 23, will head off for an 11-day concert swing through France, Spain and Italy. The group, led by DYAO music director Wes Kenney, will perform four concerts of music by Mendelssohn, Barber, Tchaikovsky and Brahms.

“In our previous tours, the concerts have always been packed,” Hellyer said. Much of those successes, along with detailed pre-trip planning, can be credited to the organizing expertise of ACFEA Tour Consultants, a company based in Washington state that has sent the DYAO and numerous other American youth ensembles overseas. In addition to setting up transportation and hotel accommodations, the company arranges for advertising posters in each host town and publishes notices in local newspapers. That said, Hellyer has sensed that audiences are simply attracted to the idea of hearing a youth orchestra from America.

The Europeans will no doubt be charmed once again by these fledgling musicians – as they are sure to be impressed by DYAO’s superior playing, qualities that audiences here have known for decades. For the orchestra members, the upcoming tour could well be the experience of a lifetime. “It’s a life-changing experience – we hear that all the time,” Hellyer noted. At the same time, a European tour carries with it a heady responsibility. “The kids realize that they are ambassadors,” he said. “We do talk in advance about how they’re representing the United States And Colorado.”

Naturally, there will be plenty of adult supervision: The traveling contingent of 83 includes around 20 adults. As Hellyer said, “We hold the kids’ hands as much as we possibly can.”

Not that these talented young people require a short leash. During recent European tours in 2004 and ’11, along with a trip to Argentina in 2007, chaperones were delighted to see how the older players had voluntarily taken some of the teens under their wings. It’s a sign of “musical maturity,” as the executive director put it. He’s observed how “the kids treat everything with respect. Their maturity level is much higher than many others in their age group.”

And what about all those temptations not available back home? Even though some of the host countries serve alcohol to youngsters, the DYAO sticks to U.S. age rules on drinking, with few resulting complications. “Hey, in 2011 we visited a champagne factory outside Leipzig,” Hellyer recalled.

Even though the time spent in Europe is short, trip planners make sure the players can enjoy 3-4 hours of free time in each town to see the sights, explore and hang out with each other.

Yerang Evangeline Kim, Violin with the Denver Young Artists Orchestra

Yerang Evangeline Kim, Violin

It’s a fabulous experience for the musicians, who are chosen from the parent orchestra’s 90+ membership. But behind the feel-good nature of the tour is a maze of planning meetings, phone calls and e-mails. “It’s a lot of stress on an organization, no two ways about it,” Hellyer admitted, explaining that the cost, totaling around $350,000, means that each orchestra member must come up with $4,500 (parents, of course, are extra). “They’ve got to make an investment,” he said, “although we do set up a series of fundraisers to help underwrite their expenses.”

Repertory is similarly worked out with a lot of thought. Music director Kenney met with representatives of ACFEA to decide appropriate music for each of the concerts. Particular care was given in selecting the program for a concert in Bergamo’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, outside of Milan. The June programs feature Samuel Barber’s Essay No. 1 (or Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet), Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. The soloist in the latter will be Curtis Music Institute student Yerang Evanjeline Kim, winner at the finals of this year’s National Concerto Competition, held on March 2 in Lakewood. That event drew 27 applicants from across the country – another indication that the DYAO, one of 10 touring youth orchestras in the U.S., is enjoying a prestige that puts it alongside the biggest and the best of them.

Denver Young Artists Orchestra - DYAOThe Denver Young Artists Orchestra will play two concerts before its European tour. Soloist at both events will be Concerto Competition winner Yerang Evangeline Kim. Tickets for each concert are $10 to $20.

Sunday, May 4 at 7p.m. in Boettcher Concert Hall. Information: (303) 433-2420.

Sunday, June 8 at 2:30 p.m. In Gates Concert Hall, Newman Performing Arts Center. Information: (303) 871-7720.

Information about the DYAO and its five orchestras:

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