When the Grammy nominations for Best Orchestral Performance were announced last month, some of the usual suspects were cut. There was the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in August for the album, conducted by composer John Williams, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under its maestro, Gustavo Dudamel.
But it’s the debut album of the New York Youth Symphony, a prestigious music program for musicians ages 12 to 22.
The news that the ensemble’s album was nominated for a Grammy Award surprised young performers.
18-year-old Isabella Marquez, who played the violin on the album and watched the livestream of the Grammy nomination announcements in her Manhattan apartment kitchen with her mother, said: her grandmother.
“I never thought I would be on an album let alone a Grammy-nominated album,” Marquez said.
Without the pandemic, the recording may not have happened. When his live performance was canceled in 2020 and the Carnegie Hall concert was cancelled, the ensemble decided to make an album instead.
After the murder of George Floyd by police and the social justice protests that swept the country that summer, the orchestra decided to rehearse and record works by black composers, including Florence Price, Jesse Montgomery and Valerie. – Selected works by Coleman. “We need to promote music that addresses these issues,” Michael Lepper, the orchestra’s music director, said in an interview.
The untitled album was completed after six weeks of remote instruction, followed by socially distant rehearsals, and a four-day recording session in which the musicians recorded the orchestral sections individually. I got it. It was produced by 13-time Grammy Award winner and Classic Producer of the Year nominee Judith Sherman.
Many of the young players were proud to have recorded an album during the pandemic. They were stunned when they were recognized for the Grammy Awards in a glorious competition like the orchestra many of them have long admired.
Joshua Choi, 18, principal clarinetist in the youth program, said that whenever he needed motivation, he listened to Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinetist of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
After finding out that he had been nominated for a Grammy Award, he couldn’t find the words to tell his parents and stared in shock at his roommate playing the oboe in the Youth Symphony.
“It’s pretty shocking,” Choi said. “I still can’t handle it.”
Orchestra concertmaster Iris Song, 17, was in class at Tenafly High School in New Jersey when the nomination was announced. , and her phone was flooded with congratulatory messages, so she recalled recording it “at such an odd time.”
“Just knowing that it all paid off was something special for me, I think,” Song said.
The album features Price’s music, including “Ethiopia’s Shadow in America” and her Piano Concerto in One Movement featuring pianist Michelle Cann. “Umoja: Anthem of Unity” Coleman. And Montgomery’s “Soul Force”.
The 40-year-old composer, whose work has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, St. Louis Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra, and is now the resident composer of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has played violin with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra. teenager.
“It was the first time I played the Youth Symphony. It was a very important moment in my education,” said Montgomery. “That was my gateway to orchestral music.”
For this recording, she had a video call with the young players and answered their questions about articulation and dynamics.
When she was young, Montgomery said that orchestras rarely played the music of black composers. She said she was relieved to see the change.
“With the concentration of black art, young people around the world are starting to make their mark in the music world. From a young person’s perspective, I think that’s a very positive thing,” Montgomery said.
Kennedy Plaines, a 22-year-old bassoonist and former member of the Youth Symphony Orchestra, was delighted that the ensemble was playing music by a more diverse roster of composers and appreciated the opportunity to work with Montgomery on the video. He said he was on the phone.
“I’ve never really had to play a lot of composers of color before,” said Plains, who learned to play the bassoon in middle school.
Violinist Jessica Jung, 14, said she gave a presentation on Price to a seventh grade civil and human rights class after learning about Price through a youth program.
When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed her symphony in E minor in 1933, Price, who became the first black woman to perform her music in a major American orchestra, began a renaissance in recent years along with other composers of color. enjoying.
“Because of their race, their gender and their sexuality, they didn’t have the chance to become very famous like Mozart or Beethoven,” said Chong, who was 12 when the album was recorded. So it inspired me to introduce them to more people.”
When the Youth Symphony returned to Carnegie Hall last month, Dmytro Tyshin was a 16-year-old bassoonist from Ukraine who fled after the Russian invasion.
Lepper, who will hand over the role of music director to Andrew Jinhong Kim for the 2023-24 season, hopes the album will inspire more orchestras to perform and record music by black composers.
“Orchestras do not deserve special recognition at this time for playing works by black composers,” he said. “They don’t deserve any special credit for presenting works by women. That’s what they should have done for decades.”
The Grammy Awards will be presented on February 5th in Los Angeles.