ence of its then-conductor Harry Davidson, now music director of the Duke University Symphony Orchestra. Studies at the Curtis Institute opened up a double opportunity for Peters: a conducting assistantship at The Philadelphia Orchestra, and one with Primavera at the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. After spending seven years with Primavera, says Peters, “I was in my mid-twenties, looking to build my career, and youth orchestras were one of the areas where there seemed to be natural possibilities for me.” Based in the Burlington area, Vermont’s largest population center, the VYO fields a senior orchestra with enough skilled players to take on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an
Troy Peters is seen here leading musicians from the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association, which jumped from two orchestras to five during his fourteen years there. He is now completing his first season as music director at Youth Orchestras of San Antonio.
Exhibition, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, the first symphonies of Brahms and Mahler, and Tchaikovsky’s second and fourth as well as his Romeo and Juliet. “But at first I wasn’t programming a Brahms symphony,” says Peters. “It was maybe the Hungarian Dances and then the Academic Festival Overture. I think a lot of us youth orchestra conductors say, ‘Four years from now we want to be able to do a Shostakovich symphony or some other large piece.’ Four years from now it’s going to be a different bunch of kids, but you are building a skill-set in the orchestra that will overlap and get carried on. And I know a lot of colleagues who will say something like, ‘For our finale this year we’ll do Kodály’s Háry János—I’m going to do some less ambitious pieces earlier in the season that explore some of those techniques or musical ideas, so the students will already have that vocabulary by the time they get to tackling the more difficult piece.’ americanorchestras.org
“In Vermont,” he continues, “I was music director of the whole organization and actually conducted the top orchestra and the third orchestra, so students coming up through the program would work with me twice. Here in San Antonio I’m just conducting the top orchestra.” But he now leads a big-city organization that encompasses two full orchestras and three string orchestras, plus an El Sistema-inspired afterschool program and a two-week summer string camp. How does he view the balance between artistic excellence and educational opportunity? The expansion of youth-orchestra organizations to embrace multiple skill levels, says Peters, “builds your base of support. You have more parents, more teachers involved through their students. That ties you more tightly into the musical community and the larger community of the town. And it does raise quality in the long run. Students grow up in the system learning all the musical technique they’ll need to achieve at the top level, just as a major-league baseball team would have its own farm system. “No matter where you are, it’s important to think about having the orchestra look like the community. In a youth orchestra you’re taking all the students you can get, but you can target your recruiting so you’re really reflecting the population among whom you live. In Vermont I wanted to play music by Vermont composers. I may not use the same template here in San Antonio, but there certainly will be a commitment to programming that is reflective of this place. I’m trying to make everything about the artistic product be reflective of who we are. But we’re also going to play Beethoven, and our big pieces this year include Sibelius’s First Symphony and excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. We’ll be committed to the core repertoire, because that’s what an orchestra is.” CHESTER LANE is senior editor of Symphony.
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