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Symphony Hall, We’ll Be Seeing You by Peter DeMarco

For most high school musicians, the chance to perform on stage at Boston’s Symphony Hall would be the highlight of a lifetime. But ask Class of 2016 graduates Amy Gu, Homa Gharagozlou, and Damon Levin to describe what it was like to step onto that hallowed stage, and they have to concentrate to remember. Gu, after all, was all of nine when she first performed at Symphony Hall; Levin was six; Gharagozlou, the ripe old age of five. “It just made me feel so small,” says Levin, who plays double bass. “I was very, very nervous before the concert. But I remember the moment that I stepped on stage, I was like, ‘I got this.’” Veterans of classical music since kindergarten, BB&N’s symphonic trio—Gu and Gharagozlou are violinists— performed this year with the acclaimed Boston Youth Symphony, an independent nonprofit affiliated with both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston University. Alongside more than 100 other students on stage, they perform the same pieces by Brahms, Mozart, Stravinsky, and Puccini that a major orchestra would play, nearly rivaling adults in their skill. This January, they accompanied a professional opera company by providing the score to Verdi’s Otello. “Our best moment actually hasn’t happened yet,” said Gharagozlou, a few days before the BYS’ season-ending concert at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre in late June. “It will be the last concert for all three of us with this group, which is sad. It’s hard to say goodbye, especially since I’m not majoring in music (in college.) This will probably be one of the greatest groups I’ll ever be part of.” Technically, Gu, Gharagozlou, and Levin’s experience counted as their Senior Spring Projects. In reality, their performances were, for each student, the culmination of hundreds of hours of practice and a decade or more’s worth of weekend rehearsals; the final notes, if you will, on their careers as symphony members. Students who join what is officially known as the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras advance their way through several tiers of youth orchestras (there are introductory and intermediate groups) based on their skill. Only the very best students ever make it to the top youth orchestra, the BYS, which Gu, Levin, and Gharagozlou performed with this spring. For Levin, his final year with the symphony was all about taking that next step as a musician: adding more vibrato—the

fluctuations a musician can give a single note of music—to his playing. “With cellos or basses or violins or any of those types of instruments, we usually do this wrist motion that kind of bends the sound. It just adds a different dimension,” he says. “Vibrating from the higher range is tough; I even sometimes have trouble doing it. But once you can master all the different spots on your bass, you’re really a musician. You can do anything.” For Gu, this past year was about striving for greater ease in her play. “It’s that feeling of my arm and fingers loosening up, and the bow gliding more smoothly over the strings, that tells me there’s a niche for this piece now in my mind. The muscle memory can take over,” she says. Gharagozlou, who graduated to the BYS’ top tier this season, made the transition from knowing how to play notes, to understanding their role in telling a story, which is what compositions actually are. “I learned the stuff below the notes,” she says. “We’re performing Ein Heldenleben by Strauss. So, each section of the piece is about something else: the first section is about his wife; the second section is about critics who didn’t like him. It was sort of always him overcoming all odds. Learning that gave us a better understanding of what each section needed from us.” The trio, who were also members of BB&N’s school orchestra, said their BYS experience was as exhausting as it was rewarding. Now that it’s over, they are ready for a break. Gu plans on studying math or science at Harvard University in the fall. Gharagozlou will be at Bucknell University, possibly studying engineering. Levin is headed to Colby College, where he’s been recruited to play not double bass, but inside linebacker for the football team. But nothing, clearly, has shaped their lives more than their love of music. “I would say my favorite thing from my whole BYSO career is the opera Tosca,” Gu says. “It’s a really epic story. It was the first opera we played, and it’s so beautiful. And it’s just very cool to play with a section. I’m a sucker for all those triumphant, symphonic, everyone-blasting-the-same-melody parts.”


BB&N Bulletin Summer 2016