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EYO still resonates after 70 years

Conductor Michael Massey breaks a record celebrating 45 years helming youth orchestra
St. Albert's Michael Massey, celebrating his 45th anniversary with Edmonton Youth Orchestra, is seen rehearsing with musicians. STEPHANIE CRAGG

The Edmonton Youth Orchestra makes history this season celebrating its 70th anniversary with a special concert on Sunday, Nov. 20 at Winspear Centre. 

A respected centrepiece of regional youth cultural life, it is a distinguished institution that has nurtured many of North America’s finest classical musicians. While fads come and go, it has a passionate, supportive audience that encourages a quality of playing making it a highly visible cultural symbol. 

The EYO’s stature within musical circles is in large part due to conductor Michael Massey’s encyclopedic knowledge of classical music and his contagious excitement nurturing young musicians. In a double celebration, Massey celebrates his 45th anniversary helming the orchestra.  

In quick look-back at both his roles conducting the EYO as well as playing piano and composing for Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Massey states the years have sped by too quickly. 

“I’ve been a central part of the EYO and ESO since the 1970s. In the last couple of years, I’ve slowed down a bit. But I still have things to do. They are a central part of my life, especially the youth orchestra. It is my pet, my baby,” said Massey, a St. Albert resident. 

The Sunday concert is the youth orchestra’s first of the season and a fitting opportunity to showcase its virtuosic talent. The 64-member Intermediate Orchestra of younger players kickstarts the concert with short works from various composers. 

Several pieces include William Byrd’s Pavane, a popular dance written for the first Queen Elizabeth; Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze, an ode to a faithful shepherd who watches over his flock, and Vassilli Kalinnikov’s Intermezzo in No. 2 in G Major, a lively Russian composition containing a frenetic hopak. 

Interning conductor Mejun Chen will step onto the podium leading Mozart’s Impressario Overture. 

“This is Mozart at his greatest. It’s a short opera thrown together quickly. It’s comedic with two prima donnas trying to impress an impressario. It’s Mozart at his funniest,” Massey said.  

The concert’s second half features the 84-member Senior Orchestra showcasing a more complicated and challenging repertoire. 

The set opens with Hector Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, nine minutes of a wild, mercurial ride that dives straight into the romantic essence. 

“It’s the second most favourite Belioz symphony after Fantastique. Many people will recognize the drama, the brilliant colour, the wonderful horns and great brass.” 

Following it is Frederick Delius’s The Walk to the Paradise Garden, from his Romeo and Juliet opera. 

The Walk to Paradise Garden is an exquisite, intimate work that is serene and almost otherworldly,” Massey said. 

A work with a 20th century Spanish classical flavour is Joachin Turina’s La Procession del Rocio Op. 9, a work that catapulted the composer to fame. The composition borrows its concept from a festival held in Triana, a neighbourhood of Seville, that honours the Virgin Maria. 

“It has its own harmonic language and is filled with wonderful idiomatic Spanish elements.” 

As EYO enters a milestone year, its purpose is stronger than ever in delivering music that creates joy, connection and lays the groundwork for another 70 years. 

In closing Massey said, “This is a big year and I encourage people to come.” 

To showcase this landmark year, EYO has commissioned a book memorializing the orchestra’s musical history. Celebrating Musical Excellence: 70 Years of the Edmonton Youth Orchestra 1952-2022 was written by Josephine Boxwell and is available for purchase at all rehearsals and concerts. 

The concert is Sunday at 2 p.m. at Winspear Centre. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 seniors and students. Call Tix-on-the-square 780-420-1757 or online at [email protected] or at door. 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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