At the nearest concert venue to my house, St. Patrick's on St. Patrick's Street (not a church these days but an Arts Centre, though the interior trappings of the church remain intact) I saw a concert advertised. It was to be a Sunday afternoon performance of Berlioz' Marche Hongroise, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, Sibelius' Karelia Suite and Beethoven's 8th Symphony, by members of the the Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy. That sounds promising, I thought. I have seen and heard the OYO in action before; they are well nigh professional in accomplishment.
When I arrived for the concert, a stranger approached me whose children were among the performers, and insisted on paying for my ticket! The grandparents couldn't make it, so he didn't want their tickets to go to waste. He didn't linger while I thanked him, off in search of another senior to treat to a free seat. I sat down, took a closer look at the programme and realised that the orchestra tuning up on stage wasn't the orchestra I'd expected; this was the Ottawa Junior Youth Orchestra (OJYO), not the OYO. Oh, I thought. They might not be as good.
However, the moment they picked up their instruments, my fears were allayed. These kids are mainly younger than in the OYO, but their standard of achievement is still astonishingly high and their discipline and stage presence exemplary. Apparently they audition for a place in the large junior orchestra for training, and then audition again, to be part of the top one. Ability counts above age. I learned this from a mum who sat next to me. Her son was in the 2nd violins; her little girl had just begun learning the 'cello; "I'm on Suzuki Book 3," she said. Previously this family had lived on Rhode Island in the USA where there are similar programs, but not producing such high level instrumentalists.
The junior orchestra began with Canada's National Anthem, slickly done, then launched straight into the lively Berlioz march. One of the 1st violinists immediately caught my eye, a young boy leading from the back desk, as it were, who didn't seem much older than my grandson (10). I worked out later, when after the intermission the same boy appeared at the first desk as "co-concert master" that this child is called Justin Saulnier. I'm making a note of the name in case he has an impressive future ahead of him!
The Firebird opened with an attention catching bang and was played with tremendous energy. Sibelius and Beethoven gave the orchestra slower, softer, more subtle passages which stretched the players a little, but they rose to the challenges without making fools of themselves. Bassoon, horn and other woodwind solos all succeeded. The concert programme had obviously been chosen to allow everyone to have a chance to shine, even a harpist taking part. Mind you, I hadn't remembered there being a xylophone part in the Beethoven symphony! I think that had somehow got added to the original score.
That these adolescents, a good half of them Asian, it seems, are being exposed to and challenged by music of such calibre in such large numbers, I find excellent and up-lifting. They will remember it all their lives, an extremely important experience for them. The applause at the end was idolatry, proud parents wielding their cameras. An encore followed, a jazzy number by Bernstein or some such composer, in which the OJYO kids were entirely at their ease. The pale young co-concert master and the dedicated conductor, Angus Armstrong, had fulfilled their obligations and (having rehearsed and performed since noon) could finally take a bow and relax.
I walked the short distance home with a spring in my step and straight afterwards set out again to go swimming: my fastest swim to date.