The inaugural National Youth Orchestra of the Unites States of America is made up of 120 of the brightest teenage musicians from around the country. James Ross, our orchestra director for NYO-USA, has a special respect for the teenage years. He shared his thoughts on what the NYO-USA experience will mean for the musicians. There is something especially magical about human beings in the age range from about 16–19. At this particular age, it seems to me that the potential for imprinting experience is at a kind of peak. The memories you make at this age seem not only to stick with you for a lifetime, but also play this great role in shaping the expectations and understandings of who you are—your personality’s DNA. For me, it is an honor to be present at and contribute to the moment of “first contact” between masterpieces and any people, be it musicians or audience. I love teenagers’ access to their own enthusiasm, their humor, their unbound idealism and sense of possibility in the moment. I actually was a teenager once, and I experience a sense of renewal and high-quality investment when around today’s teenagers.
I led an excellent school for orchestral musicians in A Coruña, Spain, in the mid-1990s, and nothing makes me happier than hearing of the life successes of our kids from the Galician countryside. Some have gone on to play in the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the European Union Youth Orchestra, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, and in one instance, on one day, even in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. You just never know what will unfold for people. James Ross is associate director of The Juilliard School’s conducting program and director of orchestral activities at the University of Maryland.