Young Euro Classic Festival: United by Youth

Youth orchestras might not be able to match the experience of professional orchestras, but they are certainly not lacking in status. The most renowned orchestras – the likes of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra – are frequently invited to perform at the world’s most prestigious concert venues and classical music festivals. Young Euro Classic is dedicated to showcasing the world’s top youth orchestras. And it is this, according to General Director Gabriele Minz, which gives the festival its unique atmosphere.

Young Euro Classic | © Kai Bienert

Young Euro Classic | © Kai Bienert

Young Euro Classic is now in its 16th year. How has it developed over that time?

The most noticeable thing is that the level of musical quality has increased significantly. Youth orchestras have developed considerably over the past 15 years. It is now considered an essential part of music education to have participated in a youth orchestra – the more renowned, the better! Young Euro Classic provides such validation for the orchestras. An invitation to perform here is a mark of distinction. Thus, the international attention and number of applications from orchestras have increased accordingly over the years.

This year, our programme focuses particularly on the great European tradition of orchestral playing. During these politically difficult times, it is important to emphasize that orchestral music is a cultural treasure that must be maintained and passed on to the younger generation, players and audiences alike.

How is Young Euro Classic different from other festivals?
To my knowledge there is no other comparable youth orchestra festival in the world. Young Euro Classic is marked by a great openness to other traditions. The orchestras present a major repertoire work, but they then also add pieces from their home countries, which are rarely heard here in Germany – and often prove to be real discoveries! How often does one hear a program of all-Czech music, or music from the nations bordering the Baltic Sea? The orchestras occasionally present original, folkloric music from their homeland. For example, the presentation of Chinese or Turkish traditional music is always a hit and resonates with the audience. These musical “flavours”, which can be quite exotic, give the Young Euro Classic program its special colour.

What do you think youth orchestras can bring to a performance that professional orchestras cannot?
Youth orchestras bring a very special enthusiasm to their playing. What they may lack in experience, they make up for in sheer verve and joyfulness. Like any young creature, they might sometimes lose their sense of proportion or simply run with the music for the sake of it. But experienced conductors know how to channel this, and their energy and joy are transmitted to the audience.

How is this festival important for the development of young musicians?

Our motto is “tomorrow’s musicians today”. Young musicians need support for their talent, to grow as musicians and also as personalities. Young Euro Classic offers a platform for personal and professional growth. Some of the orchestras performing here have never stood on a stage like the Konzerthaus, and it can be an awe-inspiring, transformational experience for them.

Some of the youth orchestras bring together players from various different countries. Does coming from different cultures means that the instrumentalists play differently?
Of course there are certain traditions in music education that can be heard. Sometimes there are even different instruments that are used – think of German and French clarinets. But mainly it is the style of teaching and playing that differs. A Russian string player sounds completely different from a Scandinavian one, and a Scandinavian differs in sound from her German colleagues. The challenge of the international youth orchestras is to blend all these individual traditions into one sound, without stifling the individual’s voice.

Bi- and international youth orchestras are instances of musical diplomacy, enabling cooperation and understanding. They act as a counterbalance to prejudice by providing direct encounters between different countries and cultures. Audiences sometimes fail to realise that Young Euro Classic has a great tradition of founding such bi- or multi-national orchestras, often in response to current political events. That background is immediately obvious when you consider the South-Eastern European orchestra who performed in 2010, the Turkish-Armenian orchestra in 2012, or this year’s “Peace Orchestra” uniting Ukrainian, Russian, Armenian and German musicians. All these came into being from the festival’s own initiatives. Young Euro Classic organises the rehearsal period, and then presents the results of this “crash-course in musical diplomacy” in concert.

Why is it important to have bi- and multi-national youth orchestras?
We notice in our ticket sales and audience reactions that the bi- and multi-national projects are very popular, and the media interest is consistently high. We believe that this reflects the wish that life could be like an orchestra. It is perceived as a model for society, people sharing one goal and doing their bit for the optimal result. People are also curious to hear the outcome of such experiments. And they are rarely disappointed!

Young Philharmonic Orchestra Jerusalem Weimar, Dirigent: Michael Sanderling | © Kai Bienert

Young Philharmonic Orchestra Jerusalem Weimar, Dirigent: Michael Sanderling | © Kai Bienert

How important is new music to the festival?
New music plays an essential role at Young Euro Classic. From the very beginning, we have encouraged all the orchestras to include a world premiere or German premiere in their concerts. In this manner, the festival has presented about 200 world premieres and German premieres, with nine more coming up this August.

Young Euro Classic also commissions pieces from young composers. This year, the young composer Sinem Altan, a resident of Berlin with Turkish roots, has been asked to write a piece which the National Youth Philharmonic of Turkey will premiere on August 16. We believe that young musicians have a more natural approach to new music. They have fewer preconceived notions and come to it as a matter of course, guided by their curiosity. Today’s music education is also designed to accommodate new music, so the young players regard it with greater ease and confidence.

Are there any particular performances that you are looking forward to?

As every year, it is very hard to pinpoint a specific concert, as I am intensely curious about so many of them! However, a project very close to my heart is the “Peace Orchestra” performing at our final concert. Here, young musicians from the Ukraine, Russia, Germany and Armenia have been invited to live and work together for one intensive week, and finally to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the baton of Enoch zu Guttenberg. This is an initiative of musical diplomacy, which is quintessential to Young Euro Classic. It is incredibly important to create spaces and forums where people can communicate directly and realize goals together, treading where official diplomacy may be unable to go. And what could be more symbolic than Beethoven’s Ninth?

This year’s programme describes Young Euro Classic’s ‘legendary festival atmosphere’. What is it about the festival that gives it this special atmosphere?

It is the feeling of direct, genuine contact between the audience and the young musicians that creates a special feeling. As for the rest, you simply have to have stood on Gendarmenmarkt on a balmy summer night when the audience leaves the hall, occasionally accompanied by the strains of a Spanish brass band or a South African ensemble of musicians who simply won’t stop playing to understand what makes this festival unique!

In bringing together musicians from around the world, Young Euro Classic involves itself with larger political issues. Are there risks in giving the festival a larger political message? Why should the festival have aims other than to showcase the world’s best youth orchestras?

Youth orchestras do not exist in an apolitical void. They are part of society and they need to play a part in civil society. If you consider the historical development of orchestral music after the French Revolution, suddenly music was not for the select, noble few, but was written for a much broader range of citizens. Orchestral music has a lot to say to society. Its continued existence depends on social and thus political issues and decisions. As a festival, Young Euro Classic is not primarily political, but it does pay close attention to world events. It tries to take a stand and make a point where it is necessary.

‘Young Euro Classic’ takes place at the Konzerthaus Berlin from 6 to 23 August. Tickets: 16-25€

Published originally in Berlin Logs.

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