Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the world's largest parade of youth orchestras has music by Beethoven in its sights – but audiences can also expect surprises.
They come from countries like Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Portugal, Sweden and Germany, but also from further afield like China and the US.
Taking place in Berlin's Konzerthaus on Gendarme Square from July 19 until August 9, the festival also introduces youth orchestras never yet experienced by the classical-savvy Berlin public: from Chile, the Dominican Republic, the Russian federal republic of Tartarstan. The Israeli-Palestinian Galilee Chamber Orchestra will also be performing.
In its 20th anniversary season, Young Euro Classic's program features 19 orchestras altogether. The opening act has been sent by Germany's neighbor to the east, Poland: A concert by the Polska Orkiestra Sinfonia Iuventus. Led by Jakub Chrenowicz, Poland's national youth orchestra will perform Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, the Pastoral, and his iconic Fifth Symphony.
The festival draws to a close with National Youth Orchestra of the USA, led by Antonio Pappano and joined by the mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly.
Ahead of the Beethoven curve
Before the excitement over Beethoven's 250th anniversary year begins in 2020, Young Euro Classic celebrates that composer with all nine of the composer's symphonies as well as his piano concertos, Choral Fantasy and other works.
Coordinated by General Director Gabriele Minz and Artistic Director Dieter Rexroth, the playbills include works by Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and Gustav Mahler. But the public will also hear nine contemporary works never before performed in Germany — one of them to be recognized with a cash award of 5000€ ($5600) — and pieces that reflect the youth orchestras' regional cultures.
Classical music seems alive and well at this festival of youth and music: With nearly 96% of the available tickets sold, younger generations not only populate the stage but also make up a larger-than-usual proportion of the audience. In Germany there are awards for everything, including "Audience of the Year," and Young Euro Classic, attended by 25,000 yearly, is a past nominee for that distinction.
Orchestras as a model for society
Not only about securing the audiences of tomorrow, the festival's aim, as declared on its website, is to promote "what has characterized European orchestral culture for centuries: transcending boundaries and integrating people."
Indicating that youth culture in Berlin is not limited to pop music and the independent scene, the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper dubbed Young Euro Classic "the Bayreuth of youth culture" — a reference to the renowned Richard Wagner Festival of opera in that Bavarian city.
Beyond presenting established groups, the festival also promotes the founding of new ones, some of them bi- or multinational. An example is the Festival Orchestra of Germany and Greece, newly founded by the Greek Underground Youth Orchestra of Athens, and the Julius Stern Chamber Orchestra at Berlin's University of the Arts. The new formation will be led at the festival by the renowned German conductor Christoph Eschenbach.
Two extra-musical events on July 25 and 31 have been scheduled in cooperation with Germany's Max Planck Society, where researchers in the fields of cognitive and neurological science and empirical aesthetics give pre-concert lectures on how music affects structures in the brain and how the sense of hearing has evolved.
Each concert is ushered in by the festival hymn, this year's written by the conductor and composer Iván Fischer.
Rounding out the program are an event where classical music and jazz meet, and a performance by the National Youth Ballet of Germany. The European Union Youth Orchestra is in charge of an entire weekend of music culminating in a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on August 4.