EALING Youth Orchestra, whose members come from 25 schools across West London and beyond, is evidence if ever one wanted it that teenagers can be incredibly hard working and pretty darned talented.
The orchestra is elite; entry is by audition, the weekly rehearsals are three hours long, performance venues have included the Royal Festival Hall and Southwark Cathedral. But it is not elitist; fees are £70 per term, with assistance for those who need it, and a large proportion of members attend state schools.
Chatting during a rehearsal break at Twyford High School in Acton, Ed Watson, 18, French horn player, says: “At face value joining an orchestra looks like a pretty lame thing to do, but once you are here there is none of that. There is a nice friendly atmosphere, and although there is a wide range of ages, that isn’t a barrier. Rehearsing on a Friday is no sacrifice; you are done by 9pm.”
The pupil of St Benedict’s School adds: “The concerts are the best, after you’ve put in weeks of hard work, it’s so satisfying to play the piece properly, you get a nice high afterwards, and then there is usually a party.”
Ben Bucknell, 15, from Whitmore High School in Harrow, and a new recruit to the violin section, admits he had to be persuaded to audition, but is grateful that he was. He says: “You know the music is going to be difficult, but if you can’t play it to start with, it’s not like you are the only one.”
Georgia Brown, 15, flautist and a pupil at Drayton Manor High School in Hanwell, says: “It’s very inclusive, you get to meet people from different schools and your social life expands. It’s hugely beneficial to your playing and you improve so quickly because you’re playing under a really good conductor who pushes us really hard.”
Music director Leon Gee believes that EYO is unique. “It is definitely the most street wise of the youth orchestras I have worked with and I love the challenge of attempting to channel all this bravado and attitude into the serious business of discovering this music and releasing characterful performances of it.”
The repertoire is from the late 19th century onwards with a bias towards works “which will have an immediate and tangible emotional impact.” Recent favourites listed by the players include Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Dvorak’s 9th Symphony and Holst’s The Planets. Another beloved score, Klaus Badelt’s Pirates of the Caribbean, will form part of the programme at a concert at St Barnabas Church, Pitshanger Lane, Ealing, on June 24, when EYO is to be joined by 35 players from the Sacramento Youth Symphony who are jetting in for the occasion from California.
The highlight of the year is the annual tour in August; this year to Barcelona. The orchestra will be making a 24 hour coach journey to get there, partly to keep costs down, but mainly because it’s difficult to feel confident about putting 60 musical instruments in the hold of an aircraft. There will be sightseeing and rehearsing by day, and performing in ancient Catalonian churches in the evenings.
EYO was founded in 1959 by John Railton, who died this year. It has kindled in many thousands of West London teenagers a deep love of classical music which has remained with them through their lives. Esther Sheridan, a member in the 1990s, says: “Friendships you make in the EYO are friendships you keep for life. I enjoyed school, but at EYO I made friends who I am still in touch with.” Sometimes love blooms: former EYO members Ruth Hudson and James McKenzie, for whom romance began in the violin section, will marry in September.
EYO’s new chairman Chris Brown wants to expand the orchestra from its current 75 members and is keen to encourage anyone of at least grade six standard to consider auditioning in July for the next intake. Every summer around 25 percent of members leave for university, so there will be vacancies among all instruments, especially double bass, trombone, oboe, tuba and harp.
Chris says: "The audition process isn’t designed to trip anyone up; it’s to see whether people are able to play to a certain standard, because after all we are playing to paying audiences. If you are not quite at the right level yet we will offer advice and the chance to try again next year; it’s often not a rejection as much as a question of timing."
Chris says he agreed to become chair of EYO because he couldn’t think of a good reason not to get involved with such a valuable organisation. “The energy that comes from kids of that age making music is intoxicating. They are having their noses pushed up against the window pane of great art. The excitement of creating a beautiful piece of music and seeing what happens when the audience is excited and moved by it, you can’t put a price on it.”
For more information visit www.eyo.org.uk