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Stephen Rogers Radcliffe leading the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall

Andrew McIntyre

ng America

Radcliffe is one of many conductors who are making their marks at youth orchestras across the U.S., producing music that is frequently at a very high level with nonprofessional players, in settings independent of the conservatory or music school. In fact, youth orchestras, whether they operate autonomously (like Seattle’s) or under the umbrella of a professional orchestra, provide springboards for major conducting careers, both inside and outside the youth-orchestra world. Careers dedicated to conducting and building independent youth orchestras can be found as far back as 1924, when the nation’s oldest such organization, the Portland (Ore.) Youth Philharmonic, was established. Hundreds of youth orchestras have sprung up since that time, both on their own and as part of a professional orchestra’s educational mission. And with skill levels constantly on the rise among classically trained young instrumentalists, some of these youth orchestras can now provide conductors with artistic challenges equal to those in adult professional orchestras. Performing Mahler’s 80-minute “Resurrection” Symphony may be almost unheard of for a youth orchestra—unlike the First Symphony, a work that advanced highschool musicians take on fairly often—but Mahler is a hallmark of the SYSO. “We haven’t done all of the Mahler symphonies,” says SYSO Executive Director Dan Petersen, “but we do have a tradition with Mahler. It’s great for getting the kids excited.” Perhaps even more ambitious than the “Resurrection,” however, was Schubert’s Ninth, the longest and probably the most difficult of that composer’s symphonies. Radcliffe says that when Leonard Slatkin visited the SYSO last season to work with the young musicians on Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, and learned that Radcliffe was contemplating Schubert’s Ninth for this year, he recommended that the orchestra not attempt it. “And I said, ‘We gotta do it. It’s a wonderful piece and the kids will love it.’ ” Why was Slatkin cautious? “The Ninth is exhausting,” says Radcliffe. “Long, technically demanding at the end, and the winds are playing constantly, chockablock with melodic material. In certain ways the Schubert is more difficult than the Mahler, because the SYSO is a very big orchestra. I think that’s what Slatkin was worried about.” Performing works that require a Mahler­size ensemble, Petersen notes, “is good for


Symphonyonline may jun 2010