On June 23, fourteen Houston Symphony musicians traveled thousands of miles to Colombia to begin our orchestra’s first ever educational partnership with one of Latin America’s finest youth ensembles, the Colombian Youth Philharmonic (Filarmónica Joven de Colombia). Our musicians have been in the small town of Paipa, Colombia working with this next generation of professional orchestral musicians on sectionals, coaching and musical mentorship. Carlos Andrés Botero, a conductor who has appeared with the Houston Symphony as Co-Host of our “Musically Speaking with Andrés” series at Rice University, joined the Philharmonic in his home country to further prepare them for the second and final part of this educational partnership, which will take place right here in Houston next month. Here he shares his reflections and excitement about the week our musicians spent with these talented young musicians.
The Filarmónica Joven de Colombia (Colombian Youth Philharmonic) is a very special orchestra, and one very close to my heart. It represents my dream of giving the best young musicians in my home country all the amazing opportunities that I never had growing up. It is the first time in the history of Colombia that we have the talent and the resources necessary to perform a piece like The Rite of Spring, which Houston audiences can see for themselves on July 12 at Day of Music. In many ways, the fact that we gathered for two weeks is the culmination of several decades of patient and constant effort of many musicians that have studied overseas and returned to build the Newer Generation of musicians in Colombia. This week represents my desire and commitment to be part of that wave of artists that dreams of changing the world one note at a time.
What makes this #LaJovenEnTexas tour so important is the preparation leading up to it. What’s even more special is that a group of musicians traveled thousands of miles to share their experience with our young musicians. The expertise that the Houston Symphony musicians brought to Colombia was vital in making our week of preparation swift, efficient and deep with meaning and artistry. Every single one of us has worked round the clock to nurture and reshape all the Colombian Youth Philharmonic’s talent into a powerful and dynamic orchestra that sparks the natural talented enthusiasm of the young men and women.
The experience initially took us to the Bogotá airport, immediately followed by a four-hour road trip to the historic town of Paipa, 124 miles northeast of Colombia’s capital. The independence of Colombia was forged around this area almost 200 years ago, also by brave people in their twenties who dreamt of a different nation and a place of leadership in the world. I always find it quite fitting that the Colombian Youth Philharmonic’s residencies are here, at the edge of a 50-acre artificial lake at the top of the Andes. The beauty and historic importance of the surroundings make this an inspiring location.
I led the 112-strong ensemble with the assistance of another conductor for two days prior to the arrival of the Houston Symphony musicians. Knowing that very few of the young musicians had played this music before, the strategy was to build a basic knowledge of the work via sectionals where the Symphony faculty could build each section of the orchestra in a personalized way. For the first three days, we were able to strike a balanced proportion of individual lessons, master classes, workshops by instrument and by instrument families, guided listening sessions, history and theory analysis, and Full Orchestra Rehearsals. Some of us have even found time each day to coach chamber ensembles in preparation for our concerts in Houston including the highly anticipated side-by-side performance and residency in Houston. It has been a busy week that went by too fast, but it was without a doubt a rewarding week with exceptional results; everything we wanted and more.
From a very rocky first rehearsal, we now have an orchestra that can play the hardest piece of music of the twentieth century. And even more, they can play it with confidence while following the nuances required making high quality music. On Saturday, June 27, just a few days after the experience began, I had my last rehearsals with them before maestro Andrés took the podium for the last days before the official start of the Tour. On top of Stravinsky’s brilliant score, we also prepared eight other pieces by different composers, all demanding substantial differences in our playing efforts and precise technique. They proved their commitment and focus by seamlessly switching from one to the other with accuracy in a matter of minutes!
Taking all this talent, first shaped by many years of study in their schools, and building it into an ensemble that can stand now on its own feet will be one of my favorite moments of my life, I’m sure! To see their faces light up when even the most obscure passages start making sense thanks to the subtle changes of timbre in the woodwinds during rehearsal is so remarkable. I only wish everyone in our audience could have witnessed that process from the very beginning. It would surely make you love their effort and dedication as much as I do. Nevertheless, by attending the concerts you will witness an unforgettable concert by players who truly enjoy making music together.
And now now off to a series of concerts in Medellin, Bogota, Dallas and Houston!
Learn more about the Colombian Youth Philharmonic’s visit to Houston, which will include performances of The Rite of Spring and Carmina Burana. Get daily updates, photos and videos of our musicians’ journey in Colombia by visiting our Web site and following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.