Sofia Checa, 17, a Dobbs Ferry High School student, has played the cello since the third grade and has garnered accolades for her talent.
By Sol Hurwitz
Sofia Checa, 17, a Dobbs Ferry High School student, has played the cello since the third grade and has garnered accolades for her talent. But her highest musical achievement has been winning an audition to play this summer with the elite National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. “I was in my English class and I saw an email from the orchestra, and I freaked out,” she recalled. “When I finally opened it and saw I was accepted, I really freaked out.” More than a thousand young musicians nationwide applied this year.
Sofia will join 113 musicians ages 16 to 19 from 37 states for an intensive two-week training residency on the campus of Purchase College. There they will rehearse, attend master classes and music seminars, and play chamber music, all under the guidance of some of the nation’s finest professional musicians. On July 10, the orchestra will perform its debut concert at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College; on July 11 it will play at Carnegie Hall; and the following week it will set off for a two-week, seven-city concert tour of China.
Charles Dutoit, artistic director and principal conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic, will conduct all of the concerts. The program features Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”) with internationally-renowned pianist YUNDI as guest soloist; Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique; and the premiere of a new work from award-winning Chinese composer Tan Dun, Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds, commissioned by Carnegie Hall.
Chosen after a rigorous application and audition process, the young musicians have received glowing reviews. The New York Times said that the orchestra “avoided the obvious” and “put a priority on depth, substance and character.” Renowned violinist Gil Shaham, who was last year’s orchestra soloist, told the Times: “I knew the level would be remarkably high, but I was still surprised. Their chops are amazing.”
When they step out on stage, the players project a youthful exuberance, helped in part by their non-traditional concert attire: black jackets paired with fire-engine red trousers and black Converse tennis shoes with a white-star pattern.
During their training residency, they will work with a faculty of principal players from the nation’s premiere symphony orchestras. Sofia, the only cellist selected from New York state and one of two musicians from Westchester, will be coached by Brinton Smith, the Houston Symphony’s principal cellist. “It’s an opportunity to bring my musicianship up to the next level,” she said. Phillip Solomon, a 17-year-old clarinetist from Montrose, will be instructed by Stephen Williamson, principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Founded in 2012, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States is organized and managed by the Weill Music Institute, Carnegie Hall’s education and community engagement enterprise. The moving force behind the ensemble’s creation is the British-born Clive Gillinson, Carnegie’s executive and artistic director. As a young cellist Gillinson played in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, which became the model for the U.S. orchestra. Participation in both orchestras is free, and conservatory students may not apply.
On its China tour, the orchestra will perform concerts in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Xi’an, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. As part of their schedule, the players will be given private tours of these cities and their cultural sites. They will also be able to share their artistry with other young musicians and take part in informal community concerts.
“I’ve always wanted to be out in the world bringing my music to other people,” Sofia said. “This is the perfect vehicle for building personal relationships.”
For tickets to the July 10 performance at Purchase College, call 251-6200 or visit tickets.artscenter.org; for tickets to the July 11 performance at Carnegie Hall, call 212-247-7800 or visit carnegiehall.org.