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From April 9-11, Chicago had the honor of hosting the first Youth in Music Festival and National Pathways Summit. While the Youth in Music Festival Orchestra has been a tradition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this is the first year it has consisted exclusively of student musicians of color from around the country, and combined with a summit for institutional arts leaders and educators. More information on the event can be found here.

Approximately 50 participants from programs around the country were selected to play in a festival orchestra side-by-side with members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In addition to CMPI fellows from the Chicago area, students traveled from programs in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Nashville, Philadelphia, Washington, and San Antonio.

The students were prepared in rehearsals over three days with the CSO’s Solti Conducting Apprentice, Lina González-Granados, who had a busy week also filling in for Maestro Riccardo Muti, who contracted COVID. The event culminated in both a concert with Maestra González-Granados at the Merit School of Music and an open rehearsal with Maestro Muti at Symphony Center. Students performed Valerie Coleman’s Seven O’Clock Shout and Liszt’s Les préludes.

CMPI was honored to have 14 fellows participate in the orchestra, filling both concertmaster positions and principal chairs for flute, oboe, horn, trumpet, and trombone. Two recent alums, Oliver Talukder and Amanda Perez, also participated. CMPI fellows reflect on their experiences in the comments below.

“I felt very inspired when sharing the stage with members of Civic Orchestra and the CSO, and felt like they really pushed me to play, perform, and focus at a higher level. In addition, I really felt like I learned a lot from working with Maestro Muti and Lina González-Granados, as they both really helped me understand the interpretation, story, and expression in Liszt’s Les Preludes. Finally, I also really enjoyed meeting new people, seeing old friends, and just having lots of fun with other musicians like me.”

Sameer Agrawal - Violin

“The most influential takeaway was the ability to be flexible and attentive at all times during rehearsals. Playing side-by-side with a Civic player helped me experience what it is like to be in a professional orchestral environment. If the conductor gave us a critique, we had to immediately adjust regardless if we were used to playing the music in a different way. We also played off of copies of the music that were not my own (with all of my fingerings and notes), which forced me to rely on memory and quick thinking to execute the pieces correctly. Additionally, seeing the musicians’ and conductors’ enthusiasm and passion for the music was very inspiring, and the excitement certainly carried over to myself and my peers.”

Esme Arias-Kim - Violin

“Playing side-by-side with CSO and Civic players was incredibly rewarding. Whenever I have the opportunity to play alongside great musicians it makes me play better as well, so performing with members of the CSO and the Civic Orchestra elevated my playing to a much higher level. After last year's virtual chamber coaching with Maestro Muti, it was exciting to have the opportunity to work with him again in person. I also felt extremely honored and flattered that he remembered me from that event. That was definitely a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Zachary Allen - Oboe

“I felt pretty nervous about playing for Maestro Muti. I had been told that he waits way longer for the climax of Les Preludes. So I was really nervous I would mess up. But during the rehearsal I could tell that although he was strict, he has a true passion for conducting. Overall it was exciting to play for him, and I am so happy I was part of the experience.”

Isabel Armenta - Percussion

“It was very refreshing to play in this diverse orchestra, as this type of rich diversity is not seen too much in the classical world. Not only were the musicians fun to work with but they are very talented as well!”

Aidan Daniels - Violin

“One thing that I learned from playing alongside professional percussionists was the idea of projection on snare drum. Joe Bricker, associate timpanist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, informed me that in a hall like Orchestra Hall in Symphony Center and with a conductor like Maestro Muti, it is necessary that I project my sound so that even the person sitting at the very top of the upper balcony can hear me. Joe told me to really dig into the drum, alter my technique a little, play with a darker sound, and pretend that the head of the drum was way lower than where it was which again would encourage me to dig deep. After the performance, he even came up to me and said, “I still think you could’ve been louder and played with a darker sound.” This gave me a new perception of how sound projection varies from venue to venue and what may have to be adjusted to create the sound I want on my instrument.”

Aleo Esparza - Percussion

“I had the pleasure of working with Simón Gómez Gallego and Joe Bricker during the CYMF. They both had so much information to share with us about technique and also playing with an orchestra. Playing alongside them gave me a clear goal of how I want to sound 5 years from now and I appreciate the time they shared with us.”

Sophia Luong - Percussion

“This weekend was such an incredible experience. It was so cool to be able to play alongside my colleagues from around the country, as well as have the opportunity to learn and play with musicians from the CSO and Civic orchestras. Also, being conducted by Maestro Muti was so fun, and such a memorable experience overall.”

Elena Miller - Horn

“This experience taught me so many great things, and one of my favorite moments from it was the ability to connect with new people through something I love doing. I learned that a community can be built with a simple common interest and I think that makes the music making even more stronger and meaningful. Everyone supporting each other both in rehearsal and out made the whole festival more enjoyable and even the smallest moments memorable.”

Natalia Noriega - Trumpet

“My favorite non-playing moment of the event was making new friends with other students from pathways programs around the nation. It was very inspiring and encouraging to be able to meet so many talented musicians who have the same passion as I do!”

Ella Saputra - Violin

Additional participating CMPI Students:

  • Noah Briones, Violin
  • Calleigh Riordan, Bass Trombone
  • Owen Riordan, Trombone
  • Anika Veda, Flute


Photos in article from Todd Rosenberg and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Other photos provided by CMPI fellows.

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