National Youth Orchestra, part one  | Music | DW | 18.09.2019
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Music

National Youth Orchestra, part one 

At age 50, is one getting on in years? Not the National Youth Orchestra of Germany. To celebrate its first half century, Germany's youngest orchestra went on tour in its anniversary year, 2019. Here's the downbeat. 

Listen to audio 54:59

Concert Hour: National Youth Orchestra, part one

The stage of the Cologne Philharmonie is spacious, but for this concert it was filled to nearly bursting capacity with 175 musicians: 105 of them current members of the National Youth Orchestra of Germany (BJO), aged 14 to 19, and the other 70 former members, estimated ages 20 to 75. An astonishing 81% of the orchestra's former members went on to have a professional music career. 

The orchestra's 50-year history is defined by 780 concerts performed under conductors ranging from Gerd Albrecht to Hans Zender, and including musical luminaries such as Herbert von Karajan, Leopold Stokowski, Carlo Maria Giulini, Heinz Holliger, Gustavo Dudamel, Alondra de la Parra and Andris Nelsons.

In 1998, Kurt Masur led the National Youth Orchestra of Germany in several American cities to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Berlin airlift. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the orchestra performed in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The orchestra now has a formal partnership with the Berlin Philharmonic and has worked with that orchestra's former and current principal conductors, Simon Rattle and Kirill Petrenko.  

Simon Rattle rehearsing with young musicians (Monika Rittershaus)

Sir Simon Rattle has been the orchestrra's honorary conductor since 2018

With untold hours of practice, and personal risks such as hearing impairment, joint and back problems, stress-related depression, or separation from family during extensive tours — not to mention fierce competition among musicians — why would anyone want to become a professional musician?

For Wieland Weltzel, former BJO member and now a percussionist with the Berlin Philharmonic, the answer is simple: "You got to love what you do. Otherwise don't do it. If it is already a struggle then I don't think it's worth going that path because you can only have fun in it when you when you are enjoying what you're doing. I'm very glad to have a profession that gives me this joy. And there was never a day when I doubted it." 

From the anniversary concert in the Cologne Philharmonie, the orchestra and guest conductor Ingo Metzmacher present Ameriques, the piece that its composer Edgard Varese described as reflecting feelings that "a stranger has when rejoicing over the extraordinary possibilities of modern civilization." Varese's piece is a landslide of sound with many glissandos and trills, sirens and something sounding like a rubber duck. Imagine a young Frenchman freshly arrived in an American city and slightly overwhelmed by its energy, and you will know what inspired this piece.  

Young musicians playing wind instruments on a terrace or rooftop in Mumbai (Goethe Institut/F. Hörter)

Orchestra members rehearse in Mumbai at last year's Campus Project of Deutsche Welle and the Beethovenfest

Edgard Varese 
Amériques for orchestra   
National Youth Orchestra of Germany
Ingo Metzmacher, conductor 
Recorded by West German Radio, Cologne (WDR) in the Cologne Philharmonie on April 26, 2019

Rabih Abu Khalil 
Once upon a Dervish (excerpt) 
Tobias Feldmann, violin
Sarina Zickgraf, viola
Sophie Notte, cello
Jarrod Cagwin, frame drum
National Youth Orchestra of Germany
Frank Strobel, conductor
On Enjy Records ENJ 95602 

Karl Amadeus Hartmann 
Symphony Number Four for Strings, first movement 
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher, conductor
on EMI CDC 7549162 
 

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