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NYO2: A Mosaic of Possibilities

On July 1, young musicians from across the country arrive at Purchase College, SUNY, to begin the 2017 NYO-USA and NYO2 residencies. Violinist Allen Liu—from Chattanooga, Tennessee—returns for a second summer in NYO2. He reflects on his experience in 2016 and how it informed his relationship with his community at home. In 2017, NYO-USA and NYO2 musicians continue to explore their roles as artists in society, interacting with other young musicians in New York City, Philadelphia, and on NYO-USA’s Latin American tour.

Allen Liu, Violin
Chattanooga, Tennessee
NYO2 2016 and 2017

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I first heard the words “National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America” used in conjunction about three years ago. For the next two years, I followed that revered ensemble at its periphery—the YouTube videos, Facebook updates, and press releases. However, beyond that boundary, “NYO” was an abstraction that only existed in my imagination.

Last year, I had the opportunity to reconcile imagination and reality in the inaugural season of NYO2, but I still cannot quite find the words to capture my experience. Certainly, it is possible to narrate the myriad of experiences of the residency—from the master classes and sectionals with The Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, to the synergy of orchestra rehearsals with Maestro Guerrero, to the social entrepreneurship workshop with Project 440, to our debut at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, to the symphonious cacophony of a 350-member combined orchestra performance.

Yet, there is something ineffable that concrete experiences, no matter how numerous, fail to capture. For me, NYO2 is not about the one-time, tangible experiences, whether these experiences take the form of a casual chamber music reading in the dorm or a concert in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall. Rather, NYO2 is about possibilities—no experience exists in isolation from the mosaic of possibilities of which it is a part. In reflecting on my time in NYO2 last summer, I have decided to look past the individual experiences and instead towards the underlying mosaic of possibilities that NYO2 creates.

For me, at the core of this mosaic is NYO2’s commitment to social innovation. Our activities in NYO2 last year breathed life into the words of José Antonio Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, who emphasized the importance of “not putting society at the service of art, but art at the service of society.” Our workshop with Project 440 on social entrepreneurship and our peer-mentoring session with students in the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth introduced me to the idea of music as a medium for social innovation, as well as the idea that classical music can be used to creatively and organically engage with the audience and community. These ideas inspired me this past year as I worked with my hometown’s chamber music concert series, String Theory, to organize a one-week artist residency with violinist Robyn Bollinger. The environment within NYO2 and NYO-USA has also been very encouraging of student ideas. In fact, this summer I am looking forward to contributing a video to NYO-U, an educational project started by NYO-USA alum Akshay Dinakar.

The community in NYO2 is also essential to its vast possibilities. My time in NYO2 last summer led me to reflect on the characteristics of a strong community, and what stood out to me about NYO2 was that the community exemplified both similarity and difference. Though we all bonded through our shared passion for music, there was such a diversity of backgrounds that every individual also contributed something genuinely unique. I did feel that our community was a microcosm of the diversity of the United States, and this diversity led to rich conversations. The individuals in the NYO2 community were also among the most dynamic, thoughtful, and multi-talented people whom I have ever met, and I am looking forward to the numerous conversations, rehearsals, and hours in the basement of the music building that we will share this summer.

I am excited that NYO2 has been expanded to a three-week program; I think that the extra week will allow our community to thoroughly coalesce, both socially and musically. I am also looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with NYO-USA musicians, especially in our chamber ensembles. Working with students in the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth and continuing the social entrepreneurship lessons from last year through Artists in the Community Workshops will also be a highlight this summer. Finally, it goes without saying that having the opportunity to perform at the Kimmel Center and in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall is surreal.

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Ultimately, however, the possibilities of NYO2 are so boundless that my experiences from a single year and anything that I can anticipate this summer represent only a microscopic subset of what NYO2 offers. I am looking forward to uncovering another piece of that infinite mosaic of possibilities and, in doing so, bringing “NYO”—that once-fascinating figment of my imagination—into the grasp of reality.

Learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA) and NYO2.

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