Marking its 77th season, the Edmonton Youth Orchestra has built a reputation across Canada as an all-star outfit with musicians drawn from across Edmonton and northern Alberta.
This season 140 young musicians of the highest calibre are mounting a winter concert at the Winspear Centre on Sunday, Nov. 26.
While the young musicians may lack the dramatic tension and expressive subtlety of professional musicians, both the Intermediate and Senior Orchestras convey considerable technique, attention to detail and unstoppable energy.
Leading the orchestra is Michael Massey, St. Albert’s first Order of Canada recipient, and a consummate professional dedicated to sharing his passion for classical music.
“They’re a special breed. They’re committed and love what they do. They want to improve and grow as musicians, and I try to provide the ideal environment. That’s the power of music when you want to improve yourself. It’s a great personal builder,” said Massey, who often has spoken about the joy of working with high achievers.
He has conducted the orchestra since 1977 and the upcoming concert commemorates Alexandra Munn, a Julliard-trained pianist who dedicated her life to teaching and inspiring musicians until her death in September 2023.
“She was a young teacher at the University of Alberta when I met her as a student. She had a certain way with students. She was an extrovert. I was an introvert and brought things out in me,” Massey said. He noted her support of EYO was unwavering throughout the decades.
The Intermediate Orchestra, ranging from 11 years to 16 years, opens the concert with Bartok’s Folk Song Suite, a lively Hungarian work Massey orchestrated in Munn's memory. They also perform Handel’s March & Minuet and Faithful Shepherd, both richly layered pieces.
“It’s nice to play baroque. They need to get the style down.”
The 60 members of the young orchestra also play Saint-Saëb’s Excerpts from Suite Algerienne, inspired by the composer’s lifetime love of Algeria.
The 80-member Senior Orchestra begins their set with Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, a romantic song the composer published in 1915.
“Vocalise starts off with voice and piano. It’s so beautiful. It’s one long line with all these beautiful counterpoints.”
The seniors also showcase Bartok’s Dance Suite, a vivacious composition that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the merging of the towns of Bude and Pest into one entity.
“It’s very challenging, very complex rhythmically. It has complex metres, changing rhythms and speed. There’s a lot of vibrato. There are six sections and linked between each is a street.”
Closing the concert is Smetana’s Ma Vlst (My Country), No. 2 Vitava (Moldau). It is a tone poem with a strong nationalist flavour that uses Czech folk-music at its core.
“It’s very deceptive. It tells the whole story of (a) river. At the start, there’s a flute that signifies small bubbles from a stream. It grows and passes through a plain and you hear hunting music. The river passes a village and there’s a wedding and at night there is beautiful moonlight. It grows and grows and becomes a full glorious Czech hymn.”
Prior to the concert, a quintet from the Senior Orchestra will perform in the lobby. Featured in the quintet are Yitian Fan (viola), Melissa Lank (cello), Joshua Gray (clarinet), and Anna Yin and Natasha Hendra on violin.
The concert begins at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $20 available online at 780-420-1757 or online at www.edmontonarts.ca