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Sean Shepherd to Work with Young Composers Through New NYO-USA Apprenticeships

This summer, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America launches a new apprenticeship opportunity for two young composers ages 16–19. Celebrated American composer Sean Shepherd, who wrote a new work (Magiya) for NYO-USA’s inaugural season in 2013, will serve as a teacher and mentor to the apprentices. Below, he describes what NYO-USA means to him and what he is looking forward to with this new apprenticeship. The deadline to apply is January 14, 2016.

Sean Shepherd, Composer

From the beginning, in 2013, we knew this new project was special. Carnegie Hall’s plan—to bring students from all regions to create a truly national youth orchestra experience for America’s most promising young musicians—was hugely audacious and exciting. But thanks to online technologies, making selection and communication over the vast distances of the country feasible, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America was an obvious idea whose time had finally come.

I had the remarkable honor of writing a piece for that opening season: The first notes that NYO-USA played were of Magiya (Russian for magic), which was commissioned for the occasion. What a season it was—Valery Gergiev led the orchestra at the Kennedy Center and the BBC Proms in electric performances. We watched the sun set at midnight from the roof of the new Mariinsky II opera house in St. Petersburg. I was delighted to see the camaraderie between these sparklingly talented young people develop into genuine friendships over those several weeks. A community was born.

And that was only the beginning; tours across the US and to China have kept the excitement flowing from one season to the next. New music has consistently occupied an important place on NYO-USA programs, with new commissions from Samuel Adams in 2014 and Tan Dun in 2015. Each season, the musicians have gotten to know and work with a living composer, and we have been privileged to get to know them and hear them bring our new notes to life.

NYO Sean Shepherd rehearsal at Purchase
Sean Shepherd works with the 2013 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America at Purchase College, SUNY.

For 2016, we are eager to share this experience with composers who, in fact, are not just living, but are real contemporaries of the musicians of the orchestra. For the first time, two outstanding student composers ages 16–19 will be selected as composition apprentices this summer. During the NYO-USA residency in Purchase, New York, the apprentices will be fully immersed in the life of the orchestra and will take part in readings, seminars, informational sessions with professionals, and special composition projects. Along with apprentices in conducting, library, and orchestra management, composition apprentices will get a rare inside look at working with orchestras while getting to know a great one up close. We will discuss music, and with NYO-USA, we will most certainly make it.

I already know what I’m most excited about: watching new camaraderie and friendships grow in Purchase this summer, and seeing young composers in that heady, messy, passionate mix of the most promising young musicians in the country.

Learn more about apprenticeship opportunities for the 2016 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.

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