The Cleveland Youth Orchestra: On The Road In Mozart's Hometown

Jun 19, 2012
Originally published on June 27, 2012 12:19 pm

Nurturing young talent is a long tradition in the classical music world, and many professional orchestras have their own youth orchestras. But it stands to reason that an organization with the kind of international stature the Cleveland Orchestra enjoys would have a top-notch youth ensemble. It does. And it's called, not surprisingly, the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra — COYO for short. The young musicians have just embarked on a European tour.

I caught up with the orchestra at rehearsal in the Cleveland Orchestra's beautiful Severance Hall, just before its members left. Kevin Ritenour, an 18-year-old percussionist, has been studying music since the fifth grade. He says it's his third year with COYO.

"I enjoy most getting to play in Severance Hall every weekend," he says. "It's truly an honor to be able to play in one of the greatest halls in the world, every weekend, and to be surrounded by such young talent. It's just a humbling experience."

Henry and Serena Shepherd, 13-year-old twins who play cello and violin, respectively, are remarkably sophisticated about going to Europe on the ensemble's first international tour in its 26-year history.

"I'm looking forward to experiencing new halls," Henry says. "We're really spoiled here with Severance Hall, but I'll be interested to see sort of the European standard of a concert hall, and how our orchestra's going to adapt to that."

Serena, like many COYO kids, says she hopes to one day play in a professional orchestra. The coaching she gets from Cleveland Orchestra pros really helps.

"It's a really good experience to hear the input of the players," she says. "They've played all the pieces that we've played, so they know the behind-the-scenes information, which is really great to get a sense of, and it really helps when it comes to our concerts."

Many COYO alumni, like 18-year-old Chad Hoopes, have gone on to play with big American orchestras.

Hoopes is still in high school, studying with former Juilliard Quartet violinist Joel Smirnoff at the Cleveland Institute of Music. But he also has a budding professional career — thanks mainly, he says, to his experience in COYO. Hoopes has performed with the San Diego, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Houston symphonies.

"Being able to be in the youth orchestra sets you up to not only play in the orchestra, but it sets you up as an artist, overall artist, and a musician that knows how to work well with other people, and collaborate, and be able to experiment and give and take," Hoopes says. "Those are some of the lessons I learned and the growth experience that I had when I participated in the youth orchestra."

The members of COYO are getting a chance to show Europe what they can do. They finish their tour Wednesday night in the grand Hall of the Mozarteum in Salzburg.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Many professional orchestras nurture young talent with their own youth orchestras. Cleveland has one of the country's most prominent orchestras, and the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra - or COYO - is in the midst of a new experience: its first-ever European tour.

Vivian Goodman, of member station WKSU, talked with some of the members recently as they prepared for the trip.

JAMES FEDDECK: Three before C.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA MUSIC)

VIVIAN GOODMAN, BYLINE: They've been at it for two hours.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FEDDECK: OK. Brahms after the break.

GOODMAN: After a 10-minute break, Cleveland Orchestra assistant conductor James Feddeck will rehearse the young players for another two hours. They do this every weekend, nine months out of the year.

CHAD HOOPES: You get kind of jittery in your chair after a couple hours.

GOODMAN: Despite the fact that violinist Chad Hoopes had been taking lessons since he was 3.

HOOPES: To keep focused for more than three or four hours and, when you have those four-and-a-half-hour rehearsals - or however long they are - it can get a little bit - um - crazy.

GOODMAN: Hoopes just turned 18. He's still in high school, and still studying with former Juilliard Quartet violinist Joel Smirnoff at the Cleveland Institute of Music. But he also has a professional career. He's performed with the San Diego, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Houston Symphonies, among others. He attributes all of this to COYO.

HOOPES: Being able to be in the youth orchestra sets you up to not only just play in the orchestra, but it sets you up as an artist - overall artist, and a musician that knows how to work well with other people and collaborate; and be able to experiment, and give and take. And those are some of the lessons I learned, and the growth experiences that I had, when I participated in the youth orchestra.

GOODMAN: Another benefit is that the young musicians get to play in Severance Hall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA MUSIC)

KEVIN RITENOUR: It's truly an honor to be able to play in one of the greatest halls in the world every weekend.

GOODMAN: Eighteen-year-old Kevin Ritenour has studied percussion since fifth grade. This is his third year with COYO.

RITENOUR: And to be surrounded by such young talent - there are so many talented musicians, and it's very humbling.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FEDDECK: OK. Beginning of the movement, the second movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HENRY SHEPHERD: I'm Henry Shepherd, and I'm a cellist.

SERENA SHEPHERD: And I'm Serena Shepherd, and I play violin.

(LAUGHTER)

HENRY AND SERENA SHEPHERD: (In unison) We're twins.

GOODMAN: They're 13, and remarkably sophisticated about going to Europe on the ensemble's first international tour in its 26-year history.

HENRY SHEPHERD: I'm looking forward to experiencing new halls, new concert halls because we're really spoiled here with Severance Hall. But I'd be interested to see - sort of the European standard of concert hall, and how our orchestra is going to adapt to that, and how we're going to play.

GOODMAN: COYO alumni have gone on to play with the Chicago Symphony, the L.A. Philharmonic, and 17 other professional orchestras. Serena Shepherd hopes to do the same, with the help of the coaching she gets from members of the Cleveland Orchestra.

SERENA SHEPHERD: And they've played all the pieces that we've played. So they sort of know - like, the behind-the-scenes information, which is really great to get a sense of. And it really helps when it comes to our concerts.

GOODMAN: The members of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra are getting a chance to show Europe what they can do. They finish their tour Wednesday night in the grand hall of the Mozarteum in Salzburg, where they'll also visit Mozart's grave. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Mozart was buried in Vienna, not Salzburg.]

For NPR News, I'm Vivian Goodman in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.