Vermont Youth Orchestra plays Carnegie Hall

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(Host) Carnegie Hall is about as good as it gets. Generations of performers — from Tchaikovsky to the Beatles — have played there. Tuesday night, members of the Vermont Youth Orchestra will be added to that historic list of Carnegie Alumni. They’ll perform a unique program of new works written entirely by Vermont composers – including Trey Anastasio of the rock group Phish.

Vermont Public Radio’s Nina Keck caught up with the young musicians as they rehearsed for their Carnegie Hall debut.

(Sound of rehearsal.)

(Keck) Listening to them, you’d never know the 70-some musicians on stage were teenagers. Besides the shorts and an occasional nose ring, it’s their feet that give them away. Members of the Vermont Youth Orchestra tend to wear flip flops, Tevas, Birkenstocks and tennis shoes. And an hour into rehearsal, most of their feet, including those of conductor Troy Peters, are bare.

(Peters) “See the double bar at 131? Right before that I need this oboe horn thing to be completely wacky. Rum pum pum pum bayat barup – completely goofy. I want to hear oboes and English horns and French horns and any other nationality of horns you’ve got. Okay – one, two, ready – go!” (Horns blare) “It’s better.”

(Keck) Despite their casual appearance, these young men and women take their music very seriously. The orchestra rehearses for three-and-a-half hours every Sunday. To get ready for Carnegie Hall, they added a Monday rehearsal as well. Mike Desmairis, a 16-year-old percussionist from Essex, says to keep up he’s had to make sacrifices.

(Demairis) “Well actually, just last night I decided I was not going to try out for soccer, which started this morning. And that was a pretty tough choice because I’ve been playing soccer for maybe 10 years or something and it was something I really enjoy.”

(Keck) Molly Gibson, of Stowe, Vermont, says she just had to work harder to prepare for Carnegie Hall.

(Gibson) “For me, the music – I was having a really hard time with a lot of it. And being one of the section leaders, I felt like I had to make sure I could really play all of it.”

(Keck) The smiling seventeen-year-old plays first violin. She says the extra rehearsals, plus the orchestra’s week-long music camp really helped.

(Gibson) “It’s a cool feeling to think, Ahhh, I’ve been screwing this up and screwing this up and then you practice it. And you finally you nail it and you think, Wow, that was really cool.”

(Keck) Making sure the violins, woodwinds and brass all sound good together is Music Director Troy Peters’ job. It’s not easy. Imagine keeping the attention of 80 teenagers who’ve been sitting for three hours.

(Annika James) “We really love Mr. Peters just because he has so much fun energy.”

(Keck) Sixteen-year-old Annika James, a violinist from Shelburne, says he knows exactly how to use it.

(James) “And it’s great. The metaphors that he comes up with to make us figure out how to play what we want to play, and because he does that we generally get what we need.”

(Peters) “Have you guys ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Can you imagine those monks walking along going, badala badala badala, bloop! Only leave out the smacking your face with the board part.”

(Keck) This is all to get the low brass section to sound a bit moodier.

(Peters) “But it’s got to be like we’re in brown robes. (Peters chants in gibberish.) “I wish I spoke Latin so I could make up some cool words.”

(Keck) Several kids from the back row immediately start shouting out Latin words. It’s that kind of a crowd. Seventeen-year old Andrew Hudson-Sabins, a percussionist from Waterbury, says playing with such a talented group is exciting. And he says the contemporary music they’re playing is great for the percussion section.

(Hudson-Sabins) “I’ll be playing bongos, then I’ll switch from bongos to tambourine to triangle to cymbal to suspended cymbals to gong – all in one piece. And having four of us running around doing that, you just kind of are in awe for a minute. You know, like, wow – look at what we’re doing.”

(Keck) Urban Renewaltz, by David Gunn, is one of six contemporary works the orchestra will feature Tuesday night. The other Vermont composers are Thomas L. Read, Trey Anastasio, the VSO’s own Troy Peters, David Ludwig and Ernest Stires. All six have worked closely with the orchestra to help them prepare for the performance. While many musicians want to play Carnegie Hall, Troy Peters says their one-of-a-kind program, and their ability to raise enough funds to rent the space made it possible for the Vermont Youth Orchestra to book a concert at the prestigious venue.

(Peters) “We’re bringing to Carnegie Hall a program that’s specific to us. New music from Vermont, much of which was written for these players. So it’s something that we offer that’s completely unique, so we’ll be in our element.”

(Keck) They’ll also be in tuxedos and long black dresses. Peters has even threatened to spray paint any non-black shoes that show up on stage Tuesday night. Sixteen-year-old Mike Desmairis rolls his eyes and admits he tries not to think too much about the actual performance.

(Desmairis) “When I picture it, I kind of picture sitting on a stage looking out, but I’m picturing like a high school auditorium. I don’t really have any idea how big this is going to be but I imagine it’s going to be pretty cool. I’m just glad that with all the bright lights I probably won’t be able to see very far.” (Laughs.)

(Keck) Annika James, on the other hand, can’t wait.

(James) “I’m so excited, just being able to tell all my friends that I’m going to Carnegie Hall. The idea that my parents have got a box and I’m playing in a place with boxes! (Laughs) It’s going to be really cool!”

(Keck) Preparing for Carnegie Hall has definitely been exciting. But Music Director Troy Peters says he’s been just as thrilled watching the relationships develop between the kids and the composers over the past several weeks. He says the orchestra has been preparing for Tuesday night’s performance more carefully – not only because of the prestige of the venue, but because they want to make David Gunn, Trey Anastasio and the other composers who will likely be in the audience, proud.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck.

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