Forty or so lanky teenagers sat on the very lip of the stage peering over the edge to see forty or so young musicians playing a rousing rendition of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes from our vast orchestra pit. Awed expressions could be seen on the young dancers’ faces as timpanis pounded alongside the triumphant notes from the brass. Challenging passages for flute and oboe were met with brio. At the conclusion, the dancers offered wild applause for their talented peers.
This is the first time that the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra will play for PNB’s Annual School Performance and hopefully not the last. You could feel the pride and excitement as these accomplished young artists prepared to share strengths in Saturday’s performances.
There is a freshness to the sound of this remarkable ensemble. They struggle with reserve but make up for it in gusto. They sometimes feel individual strength over esprit de corps, and yet they feed off of each other absolutely affecting every corner of the massive McCaw Hall.
Eventually we began rehearsals of the men’s regiment from Stars and Stripes and later Chaconne. There were a few discussions about tempi and a few missteps, but the possibility of greatness was hovering nearby. The presence of the orchestra breathed new life into the dancers who have spent months preparing with piano and cd.
To see this impressive level of musicianship from 15 to 19 year olds matched by our 15 to 19 year old ballet students is one of the more inspiring moments I’ve witnessed in a long time. If you are able to attend one of the performances on Saturday, be sure to make the trip to the edge of the orchestra pit to see this talented crew preparing.
This is not the first time that these two groups have met. Our Professional Division students attended a SYSO performance of a Mahler Symphony at Benaroya Hall in May. About three weeks ago we brought dancers and musicians together in our Studio C at the Phelps Center to watch a run-through of Chaconne. After the rehearsal the assembled teens spent almost an hour comparing notes about the rewards and pressures of being accomplished artists at such a young age. There was an unspoken mutual respect for one another. The extraordinary achievements were understood and shared.
With several hundred students performing on the stage and in the pit, youth power will be filling the theater. I saw an electric new creation by Kiyon Gaines earlier in the day to a commissioned score by young composer Aaron Severini. I have also watched as each class from Level I through Level VIII prepares their school dances. The combination of talent, energy and enthusiasm will be phenomenal. This performance is ours to witness and theirs to enjoy. The future of dance and music looks to be in very capable hands and feet and that fact will be on proud display at McCaw Hall tomorrow. Catch it if you can. You won’t regret it. Tickets are still available for the evening performance through PNB.org and at the PNB Box Office.
Peter Boal, PNB Artistic Director
Featured photo: PNB school students in class.