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Thomas Cooper

Inaugural Season of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra: The Final Entry

September 7, 2013 at 5:05 PM

A dream was what most people said when I asked them about the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. They said it was like a dream because the year passed by in an almost comically fast manner, and because it seemed too good to be true. In asking myself the same question, I have to say that I agree. There are a number of things I could write about, but I think one of the best ways to express how I feel about the BPYO and my year with the ensemble is to reveal my final letter (or “white sheet”) to Mr. Zander after the tour had ended. He asked each member to write him a white sheet to finish out the year. Before I get to that however, I will report a small amount on the tour that took place during the final two weeks of June. It was full of everything that a youth orchestra tour should have: excitement, happiness, late nights, card games, exploration, long bus rides, short bus rides, flashmobs, restaurants, laughter, tears of sadness, tears of joy, love of many kinds, and of course, heartbreak of many kinds. In the end however, a steadfast dedication to our music is what defined this tour: "By the end, the repertory was completely lived in, and the musicians sometimes even “conversed” on the busses by singing the principal themes to one another; Mahler’s Second Symphony was always “in the air,” even when the group wasn’t discussing it" (Richard Dyer Tour Blog). For anyone interested, our concert in the Concertgebouw (some of our other concerts are in Youtube as well) was recorded and is in video on Youtube:

Photobombing what was supposed to be only two people…

Dear Mr. Zander,

It has been a week since the Concertgebouw concert and yet, the emotions I felt on that night are all still too present. When I was younger, I remember hearing about the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and their concert tours to far off countries. I remember hearing about how the orchestra would play an absurdly difficult work with ease and beauty, astounding the audience. Most importantly, I would hear about how the season would end with Elgar’s Nimrod. This moment, the last time the orchestra would play together for that season, was a moment that I always wanted to have, but never wanted to happen. Indeed, when that moment finally came (with the BPYO), right after the glorious Mahler 2, it was as if time had finally caught up to me. I, that one lucky person, seemed to have evaded the mandate of time for an entire year with the BPYO. When the first note of Nimrod sounded, I realized that my time in the orchestra was over; tears flooded my face.

This year in the BPYO meant the world to me. When Saturday came every week, I was simply overjoyed to have the opportunity to play with the orchestra again. When 6:30 came around, I was sad that I would have to wait 7 days to return to a, what I considered, home. There was however, something different to this orchestra. The assignments that you gave us each week gave us the opportunity to participate in the BPYO all week and not just for four hours on Saturday. Learning to live in to possibility was something I will cherish for the rest of my life. Playing Mahler's 2nd, Strauss Ein Heldenleben, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Ravel’s La Valse, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, the Schumann Piano Concerto and Elgar’s Nimrod were some of the highlights of my young life. Furthermore, Ein Heldenleben and Mahler 2 were two pieces that I never would have dreamed of playing in the same year, let alone my senior year. The fact that I, and my best friends,(and one of them experienced it in the Concertgebouw as he flew over for the event the day before) have played both works together is something truly special.

Rehearsing in Rotterdam's famed De Doelen

I will miss many things about the BPYO. I will miss the strangely delicious food during the breaks. I will miss those wonderful moments when we all got to lean back and say how fascinating. I will miss those amazing brass chorales played by our truly awe-inspiring brass section. I will miss the walks with my friends from NEC Prep to BPYO every Saturday afternoon at 2:00pm after chamber. What I will miss the most however, is the friendships that I formed. Every Saturday when I walked in the room, I felt that I walked into a room full my friends, or people that would soon become my friends. At the beginning of the season, one could say that everyone in the BPYO is friends with one another; they just don’t all know it yet. The level of camaraderie in the orchestra was astounding from day one, but by the end of the tour, it was as if we were a tightly knit family. Even those whom I never had the opportunity to meet (and I regret to say that there are a few), I am sure are my friends as we shared those moments of Mahler and Strauss together.

The way we humans remember events that are special to us is very strange. So much of the time, beautiful moments slip through our hands before we can truly realize what they mean to us. Indeed, these fleeting, transitory times in our lives enter our memories faster than we would like them to. On this tour, I have accumulated many such memories, some of them happy, some of them sad, some of them light-hearted, and some of them deeply emotional. Each memory brings something different to the table, and as I and my colleagues go on with our lives, we will take with us these memories. When time inexorably slips by us, I believe that these memories, so malleable to the mind, will evolve and be romanticized. That sunset that we all remember on the first night in Haarlem will become redder and redder. The reverberation time of the last note of Mahler 2 in Haarlem Cathedral will probably grow longer and longer. What we end up remembering isn't always the same as what we have witnessed. To me, that is a very special aspect of our memory and it’s what makes each person so very special.

Standing in front of the 900-year-old Haarlem Cathedral

I remember during the first BPYO rehearsal, you told a story about how your father returned to his teacher after being to the hell of the First World War, and the teacher merely returned to where they had left off, establishing normalcy once again to heal the emotional damage of the war. The moment you said “Where were we,” marked the beginning of some of the happiest days in my life. Thank you Mr. Zander for living in possibility and being open to the idea of a new youth orchestra last February when so many things seemed lost. Thank you for always believing in us and thank you for bringing the world of possibility to us all. This past year is something that each and every one of us will cherish forever. I wish the orchestra a wonderful future; I will be there in spirit next year.


Standing in front of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 9, 2013 at 6:18 PM
Thomas, you have really brought me back to all the fun I had in my own youth orchestra, the Denver Young Artists Orchestra. It meant so much to go there every Saturday morning, in my case, for five years! We also played "real repertoire," though not "Ein Heldenleben"! Though I somehow missed the big Europe tour (they did it the year after I left, boo hoo!), I loved the yearly retreats we had in the Rocky Mountains. A zillion hours of orchestra practice packed into a weekend? Bring it on! All these years later, hearing things like "Capriccio Espanol" and Dvorak Symphony 8 and Beethoven 7 and Brahms 1 -- bring me back to those days!

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