The World Youth Symphony Orchestra Takes Center Stage

Crescendo issue: July 2014

Interlochen presents many talents during the summer season.

While the headlining guest artists may get the most press, it is the student artists and performances that generate the most buzz on campus. And with seven major performances over the summer, the World Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) is often at the center of the artistic spotlight. 

The mission of WYSO is the same as that of the Arts Camp itself, spreading love and passion for the arts, through the arts, and doing so in a way that builds excitement and encourages artistic growth. 

“My goal with WYSO has always been to empower students to take ownership of the direction of classical music in order for the art to live on,” explains longtime WYSO conductor Jung Ho Pak. “Joe Maddy had a vision and strategy of positioning WYSO as America’s orchestra and as an ambassador for peace and friendship to the world. That’s why he chose the lofty and ambitious title of the World Youth Symphony Orchestra. I try to bring my own modern take on this mission by teaching the musicians that the essence of art, and classical music specifically, is expressing the joy and love of life, and that our goal, above all else, is to transmit that message to the audience. If you listen to the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, you realize there is great humanity in what they have written. People need that kind of connection more than ever, especially in our current technology-filled world where humanity is traded for shock value or convenience. Ultimately, each student will have to find their own way, but, if we light the fire now, it will burn a very long time.”

That passion for the art of WYSO, and Interlochen itself, is echoed by the outstanding names who will be joining the orchestra on stage this season.

“I can't wait to come back to Interlochen this July,” says Interlochen alumna, and violin virtuoso, Ani Kavafian, who will be taking the stage with WYSO on July 27 to perform the very piece that won her the Camp concerto competition 50 years ago. “I have visited a few times, once to play the Beethoven Concerto with the World Youth Symphony, and also was there a couple seasons playing chamber music with my sister and other esteemed colleagues. However, during this visit, I will feel particularly nostalgic as it is the anniversary of winning the concertos so many years ago on the very piece we will be playing, the Saint Saëns ‘Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.’ I look forward to turning into the driveway and smelling the pine trees and seeing the place and the people that hold a very dear place in my heart.”

Ani also noted that the lessons she learned at Interlochen have been invaluable throughout her personal life and musical career. “I had the good fortune of studying a few summers with the great violinist and teacher, Joseph Knitzer. I remember the cabin where he taught and recall his words of wisdom pertaining to sound production and even the heart-to-heart talks when I lost my concertmaster chair during challenges. That summer, I learned how to be cordial in the face of adversities. I learned valuable social skills living in close proximity to 15 other girls in the cabins. I learned what it meant to have responsibilities, and developed close friendships. I don't think a summer went by without my shedding a few tears during the final concert of Liszt's ‘Les Préludes.’”

“I came to work with WYSO because I have been intrigued about this orchestra for a very long time,” says guest conductor Carlos Kalmar, who led WYSO through their July 6 performance. “During my years of work in the United States, I have met so many musicians who, in their youth, participated in the Interlochen programs. They have all raved about the summer, and I also gladly mention that I am married to an alumna.”

Joining Kavafian and Kalmar on stage with WYSO during the 2014 season are pianist Alessio Bax, conductor Erik Nielsen, violinist Joshua Bell, conductor John Axelrod, conductor JoAnn Falletta and Interlochen Center for the Arts President Jeffrey Kimpton will conduct Les Préludes.

“I hope that the young musicians understand that it is important that we all share the experience of amazing music together,” says Kalmar, who, along with Bax, took the Kresge stage with WYSO on July 6. “I hope that my many years of experience helped all of the young musicians see the importance of this outstanding music and that they should always have a great experience with Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Dvorak, amongst all of the others.”

At its core, WYSO is a complete and total immersion within the classical arts, for both the orchestra and its audience. 

“I love being in an environment of hope,” says Pak. “As Jeff Kimpton often reminds us each summer, it was so audaciously and impossibly courageous to have started a national camp in the middle of a forest, and to have it take on the role as an international center for the arts. It challenges all of us to be more than teachers and students. It inspires us to do something important. Having worked with conservatories and symphonies from all parts of the globe, I can definitely say that Interlochen is unique in its optimism. I often tell my students to preserve their optimism well, and that, though the long journey of life threatens to extinguish it all the time, it is this elusive and valuable quality that will make them truly happy and successful.”

Learn more about the WYSO 2014 season here.