I don't remember the exact music‹I was too young. My mother said she brought lots of candy to keep me occupied," says New York Philharmonic Associate Principal Viola Rebecca Young of her first Young People's Concert. "But what I do remember is rolling up the programs, tucking one under my chin and using another for a bow, to make a violin. I knew then that I wanted to be in that orchestra."
On March 27 that Orchestra will be celebrating the 80th anniversary of such experiences in a Young People's Concert (YPC), hosted by ballet star Jacques d'Amboise and conducted by the Philharmonic's Associate Conductor, Roberto Minczuk.
Eighty years ago conductor Ernest Schelling created the Philharmonic's YPCs hoping "to excite the imagination and interest of children so that, when they reach adulthood, they will be sensitive enough to enjoy symphonic music, and enlightened enough to support it." Several generations of concertgoers can trace their love of music to these concerts, including some, such as Ms. Young, who were inspired to make music their life's work.
"I was nine," says conductor Marin Alsop, who will lead the Philharmonic's performances of Leonard Bernstein's Candide in May, recalling her first YPC. "My dad, who is a musician, took me. I had been playing the violin for two years, and I was having trouble with classical music being too serious." Bernstein, who famously took YPCs into living rooms via television, was conducting. "He talked to the audience," says Ms. Alsop. "I'd never seen that before; it was a defining moment. I told my dad that I wanted to be Bernstein. I kept a poster of him‹and one of the Beatles‹in my room." Bernstein later did become a mentor to the budding conductor.
While Bernstein's legacy looms large, it was Schelling's innovations that became a model for orchestras worldwide, and are familiar to today's YPC audiences: instructional themes with plenty of illustrative materials; young performers as soloists; and audience participation at the pre-concert Kidzone Live! events and the online version, Kidzone! (at newyorkphilharmonic.org).
Ms. Young and Ms. Alsop are not alone: many of today's professional musicians gained inspiration from YPCs, among them Andrew Litton, the Dallas Symphony's music director, and composers such as John Corigliano, who hosted last month's YPC, and Gregory Smith, whose works range from chamber music to movie scores. Mr. Smith grew up in Ohio where "classical musicians were people with hard-to-pronounce names," but found Bernstein's broadcasts "intriguing and down to earth." Conductor Charles Zachary Bornstein says emphatically of YPCs, "This is where the idea took hold that I would be a conductor." Judith Clurman, director of choral activities at The Juilliard School, is another big fan: "If those concerts hadn't existed I might not be doing what I'm doing. I even saved all my YPC programs."
Rebecca Young swapped her rolled up YPC programs for a real violin when she was four-and-a-half. She switched to viola at age 16. Today the mother of three says, "I love working with kids. I've taught complete beginners‹they've never held an instrument before but by the end of the first lesson they are playing a little tune. This is the way to do it‹make music so enjoyable that kids want to come back."
New York writer Margaret Shakespeare, who doesn't remember her first live-concert experience, started studying music at age 10.