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Zander Toasted by YOA


Benjamin Zander, one of Boston’s musical notables, received Youth Orchestra of the Americas’ 10th Anniversary Award in Washington, DC on May 30th. Zander was honored “not only for his inspirational leadership with YOA over the last ten years, but also for his invaluable contribution to the youth symphony movement across the Americas.” The award was presented by Chilean Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Felipe Bulnes who spoke thus:

“Ben Zander is at heart a teacher. His desire to lead people to knowledge and enlightenment is at the center of his very being. He unlocks passion, creativity, discipline, and an appreciation of oneself. He enables, empowers, releases, and gives flight.”

Boston music educator, Mark Churchill, had this to say about YOA and Ben Zander:

I introduced the idea of a youth orchestra that embraced all of the Americas to the NEC community in the mid 1990’s.  After experiencing the benefits of a high level regional youth orchestra in my role as resident conductor of the Asian Youth Orchestra I thought that a YOA would be the ideal way to foster a model of partnership among the countries and cultures of the Americas while providing outstanding young musicians with an invaluable and unique educational experience.  I was committed to the idea that NEC should have an equal institutional partner in Latin America so we reached out to Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, the founder and leader of Venezuela’s El Sistema and he immediately agreed to join us in the effort.  This was the beginning of the close institutional relationship between El Sistema and NEC which has done so much to develop the Venezuelan music education model in our country.  Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu and I remain YOA’s two vice-chairs.

The founding and current board chairman of YOA, Hilda Ochoa Brillenbourg, must be acknowledged as the one who has driven and enabled the creation and maturation of YOA since it’s beginnings until today.   But it is also important to note that the seed funding was donated by seven trustees of NEC who each contributed $10,000 in the late 1990’s to get the idea started and by 2001, it was announced in Washington and in Caracas.  The announcement in Caracas was made at a gala joint concert in which Gustavo Dudamel and Benjamin Zander conducted the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and the NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. The next year, 2002, saw the launch of the YOA with a rehearsal residency in Boston followed by a tour to Washington, DC and many Latin American capitals.  Conductors included Benjamin Zander, Leonard Slatkin, Carlos Miguel Prieto, Gustavo Dudamel, and Christopher Wilkins with Yo-Yo Ma appearing as soloist in the Washington DC performance.  Benjamin Zander was one of the original members of the YOA advisory committee, one of its first conductors, and a major contributor to the vision and structure of the organization.

Zander has conducted YOA many times since the inaugural concert in Boston and the first tour of South America. He has taught, given leadership training talks, and has been an important advisor to YOA during its first 10 years. YOA chose to honor Ben as the single recipient of their 10th Anniversary Award out of recognition and appreciation for reasons very well expressed by Chilean Ambassador Felipe Bulnes. (read at bottom of article)

Since 2001, YOA has reached over 8 million people through live performances, television and radio broadcasts, CD recordings, print media, and documentary films.

“YOA touches the lives of youth and families in underserved communities. It inspires arts, business and government leaders. It performs in the world’s most prestigious concert halls – Teatro Teresa Carreño Caracas, Teatro Colón Buenos Aires, Konzerthaus Berlin, Palacio de Bellas Artes Mexico City, Philharmonie im Gasteig Munich, Snap Maltings Concert Hall Aldeburgh, and The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC, to name a few. YOA guest artists include Plácido Domingo, Yo-Yo Ma, Lorin Maazel, Kent Nagano, Leonard Slatkin, Gabriela Montero, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs and Paquito D’Rivera, among others.”  Members of the YOA also engage-year round in numerous outreach projects throughout the Americas

Later in the summer Maestro Zander will conduct two YOA concerts in La Serena and Valparaíso, Chile; lead a 10-day workshop for La Serena’s Youth Orchestra and conduct an intensive workshop for the National Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic.

Zander is also nearing completion of a cycle of Mahler symphonies, each with accompanying explanation disk, performed with London’s famed Philharmonia Orchestra for the Telarc label.  Mahler’s 2nd Symphony is due to be released later this year. In honor of his 70th birthday, and 44 years of teaching, he was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the New England Conservatory. He had this to say to BMint:

I was very honored to receive this award.  It was a celebration, I must say — a very moving celebration — in the presence of some of the elite of Washington, including several ambassadors and leading figures in the community. of my lifetime commitment to the training of young musicians.

The Youth Orchestra of the Americas (YOA) is an orchestra — an extraordinary orchestra of a top professional standard — made up of musicians between the ages of 18 and 30. They meet for a residency in a different city each year and then go on tour. This year, the tour is in Chile. The makeup of the orchestra is the thing that sets it apart. It includes North Americans, Central Americans, and South Americans  and the idea started here in Boston, with Mark Churchill at the New England Conservatory. We can be really proud of that!

Everything is free for the members, including the travel to and from the city of the residency. They bring in top teachers from the greatest orchestras to coach each instrument.  By the time they perform after three weeks of that kind of training, it is music making of a very high order indeed. Also, it’s the only venture that I know of where people from all the Americas, from the tip of Canada to the bottom of Chile are brought together, on an equal footing, to create something together. It’s a very powerful and moving idea. In recent years the YOA as an organization and many of its alums have enable startup music programs and presented intensive classes for both students and teachers.  Many have started music/social programs in their home countries.

I can’t wait for the next tour in July!  After that, I go for ten days to Santo Domingo to lead a residency with their National Youth Orchestra and then to England to teach my annual conducting class at the London Master Classes, followed by a week of Chamber Music Master Classes in Newcastle.  Then, back to Boston for the opening of the Boston Philharmonic season and the launch of the new Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO).

Incidentally part of the YOA award included a generous donation for the new BPYO!  I am excited to be continuing my life journey of training young musicians with a new orchestra.  The Boston Philharmonic’s commitment to the BPYO and the interest already shown by highly accomplished young musicians who share a passion for the power of music to transform lives will guarantee the addition of a vital new ensemble to the Boston area.

This article concludes with the full text of the award presentation speech by Chilean Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Felipe Bulnes :

The youth orchestra as a vehicle for social change is one of the most compelling stories of our time. Across the globe, symphonic ensembles are discovering that their contribution to humanity is much more than showcasing great art. Orchestras can and do play a vital role in the social development of communities.

Chile has a long tradition of using the power of music for social change. Today, our nationwide youth orchestra system, Fundación de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Chile, includes over 380 orchestras serving more than 10,000 youth, providing them with tools and resources to attain their dreams, and in the process, become stronger citizens and well-rounded individuals.

My country looks forward to the arrival of 80 young musicians from 20 nations of the Americas and world-class artists Carlos Miguel Prieto, Sarah Chang, Louis Lortie, Benjamin Zander and Timothy Chooi.  It is certain that YOA will “wow” audiences with this enormous display of talent. Each concert represents a special celebration of Chile within this tapestry of nations. 15 Chilean members symbolize the talent of the 15 departments of Chile and of our country’s youth as a whole.

We warmly welcome Benjamin Zander’s return to Chile. An impassioned advocate for music’s centrality to the human spirit, his energy reinvigorated many of our youth projects on his last visit, from La Serena to Santiago.

Borrowing a few words from his colleague, Mark Churchill:

“Ben Zander is at heart a teacher. His desire to lead people to knowledge and enlightenment is at the center of his very being. He unlocks passion, creativity, discipline, and an appreciation of oneself. He enables, empowers, releases, and gives flight.”

Before he “gives flight”— it is my privilege to present him with YOA’s 10th Anniversary Award.

Born and raised in England, Benjamin Zander became a citizen of the United States in 2006 after living in this country for 42 years. At his swearing-in ceremony, Judge Mark Wolf remarked,

“Benjamin Zander is a Maestro…a reverent Italian term for a teacher…and he has been dedicated not just to galvanizing talented individual musicians…but also to bringing out the best in people throughout the world…The state of the world today makes Ben’s perspective, performance and potential a particularly vital asset to the United States…We need more Maestros to teach us that we are each part of a diverse human family…We need Maestros to conduct us as a human symphony.


4 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. BRAVO!  

    I have watched Maestro Zander in rehearsal with his youth orchestras, and with the Boston Philharmonic.


    Would that all teachers of all subjects could be as gifted and Zander. I saw such learning, not just about music, but about life, too.

    His teaching CDs are a wonder. I was gifted two. I did learn much.

    Bravo !  The award could ot be better given.

    Comment by Leslie — June 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm

  2. *No one deserves this award more than Ben Zander.  His abilities re: teaching and inspiring young
    musicians… many thousands of them over the last four decades… are truly unique.

    Bravo Ben! 

    Comment by Ed Burke — June 4, 2012 at 10:05 pm

  3. *Dear Ben, Congratulations!  I am so very glad your wisdom, love and energy are
    spreading around the globe. You are a true treasure.
    Thank you for inspiring hundreds of my students. Dubi

    Comment by Dubi Moshfegh — June 7, 2012 at 2:07 pm

  4. Zander Toasted by YOA? I think lightly poached or perhaps broiled – but toasted?

    Comment by Philip Johnson — June 24, 2012 at 7:52 pm

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