The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Youth Orchestra made a triumphant New York debut last Tuesday, June 8, at a benefit performance in Riverside Church, earning a rave review in today's New York Times.
"Significant collective and individual preparation had clearly gone into their terrific concert," wrote critic Vivien Schweitzer. "Ward Stare, music director of the youth ensemble...and resident conductor of the St. Louis Symphony, has trained his charges exceptionally well."
This is Stare's first season as conductor of the Youth Orchestra, which is comprised of 100 young musicians ranging in age from 12 to 22, some of whom travel from as far away as Columbia and Springfield, Illinois, to attend the weekly Saturday morning rehearsals.
For the New York concert, which was a benefit for the Riverside Food Pantry, the young orchestra musicians received coaching from members of the New York Philharmonic.
The program included performances of Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture," Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony, Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," the overture to Bernstein's Candide and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Russian Easter Festival."
Schweitzer reserved special praise for the brass section, "often the weakest link in a professional orchestra," and the strings, from whom Stare "coaxed elegant phrasing and nuanced dynamic contrasts."
(This was not Stare's first experience conducting a St. Louis orchestra in New York: Last year when the SLSO played Carnegie Hall and conductor David Robertson played the kazoo in HK Gruber's Frankenstein!!! to great acclaim, Stare took Robertson's place on the podium.)
As for Stare, he was quite proud of his young orchestra. "They are acting very professionallly and playing at a VERY high level," he wrote in an e-mail to SLSO director of communications Adam Crane, who forwarded the message to the RFT.
In that same message, Stare added:
As far as reactions from the kids themselves: my favorite so far was today at the rehearsal break when one of our players came up to me wide-eyed and excited talking about the Mendelssohn symphony and the "Dresden Amen" theme he uses.....we've been talking about it all year...and it sounds so great in this space. The student told me that when we played it in Riverside for the first time, and she looked up at me and saw all the Grand Gothic architecture all around us and the elevated statue of a crucifix over my shoulder she really 'got it'...
It was really cool to see a reaction like that.....and I think that sums it up for many of them, too.....the energy was fantastic when we played the symphony......and that 'Dresden Amen' was STUNNING. Gave me goosebumps as I conducted it.