“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”

Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s concert aims to score win for Ukraine relief

Jed Gottlieb - Boston Herald
Articles — April 30, 2022

On Feb. 27, maestro Benjamin Zander opened the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s concert by reading a note one of his musicians had left for him. Trumpeter Cody York had delivered a handwritten letter to Zander about the shock and devastation he felt watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfold. Zander added to the audience “a classical music concert isn’t a political event,” then he led his orchestra through a performance of the Ukrainian national anthem.

Deciding what is political and what isn’t is a matter of opinion (just ask Shostakovich after Stalin tore down the composer’s opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”). But Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s next concert will surely be full of art, compassion and humanity. On May 6, the orchestra will present a “Benefit for Ukraine Relief: Shostakovich/Prokofiev/Tchaikovsky Concert & Live Stream.”

“It seems very fitting for this moment to play music that is very deep and full of extremely powerful emotions played by young people,” Zander told the Herald ahead of the concert.

The proceeds of the concert — a program of Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” — will go to the Ukraine Tensions: No Child Forgotten program to assist some of Ukraine’s most vulnerable children. The benefit will be an astounding achievement considering BPYO is a tuition-free program and arguably the greatest training ground for young players in America.

For a decade, the orchestra has helped educate musicians from 12 to 21 through local concerts at Symphony Hall and international tours — the organization has brought groups of more than a hundred kids and teens to Europe and South America. After two years without touring due to COVID, the BPYO had plans to travel to Russia this summer. Now the group will spend a chunk of time in Greece in June; but will still play programs filled with Russian composers.

“Instead of canceling all the Russian music, we are taking advantage of the fact that this is both very great music … and that each of these pieces has an undertone of protest against Russia,” Zander said. “When the war began, there was an immediate and instinctive revolution against Russia, understandably. But it was confused because it’s not Russia but the Russian regime that is running this war.”

“There’s a long tradition of great art and music that has been produced in protest against tyranny,” he added. “Shostakovich is a prime example. The last concert we performed Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and we will do so on tour, and it is perhaps the most powerful protest in music against tyranny.”

The BPYO itself seems to hold itself in protest — protest against expectations, fate, a society that often appears to not value complex, enriching art. Through a decade, the makeup of the symphony has become more diverse than most major professional symphonies. Its repertoire defies the idea that young people can’t play intensely challenging works. Its leader, at 83 years old, revels in championing the talents of kids just out of elementary school.

“They are young artists, very, very fine players, some of them superstars, playing great music in a very convincing and profound way,” Zander said. “Boston should be deeply proud of them.”


Click here to listen to a performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 3.

Click here to listen to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 6 “Pathétique”.

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