Conductor Thomas Wilkins leads 101 young musicians from across the country during the “Take a Stand” symposium and festival | Photo by Brian Lauritzen
If you have questions about the future of classical music, you’re not going to find answers in an orchestra’s administrative offices or the board room of a big opera company. I mean, you might find some good ideas there. But, better to go to the source, right? Ask future classical musicians about the future of classical music. That’s exactly what we did during the recent “Take a Stand” symposium and festival in Downtown LA.
“Take a Stand,” is a gathering of young musicians and music educators organized by the LA Phil and Longy School of Music at Bard College. One of the components of the symposium is the creation of a youth orchestra. This year’s orchestra was comprised of 101 young musicians, ages 12-18, from around the United States. They rehearsed together for a week and then performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall conducted by LA Phil Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra Principal Conductor Thomas Wilkins.
We spoke with two string players from South Florida—both visiting Los Angeles for the first time: Violinist Andrea Guariguata, 18, from Miami and violist Govanny Brown, 14, from West Palm Beach.
On coming together with fellow young musicians from around the country:
Govanny: Last year, it was kind of tricky because I was a new kid and I was very shy. I didn’t make friends until the second day. This year was totally different. I made friends when we first met in the airport. The music here is much tougher than what we did last year. So, it’s exciting and inspiring in a way because it’s pushing me really far.
Andrea: I was really impressed with the level and the preparedness of the people. … It’s amazing. It’s really good. And I love the music. We really enjoy when we’re playing it. We’re not bored at all. It’s challenging, but if you’re prepared for it, it sounds great.
Photo by Brian Lauritzen
On encountering classical music for the first time:
Andrea: When I was four-and-a-half, I was watching Sesame Street and it was the episode with the letter V in it—so, violin. I told my mom, “Mom, I want a violin,” and she thought it was just a phase. But she bought it for me and we started classes and I loved it!
Govanny: I went to a not-so-good school and so my mom transferred me to a better school. I was walking through the cafeteria one day and I heard these instruments and I was like, “Okay, what’s this?” So, I opened the door and I saw a quartet playing. I wanted to try that. So, in fifth grade I did. They had a tray of instruments and told us to pick one. The viola kind of called out to me because the violins were too small and the bass and cellos were too big. The viola was kind of a Goldilocks situation, so I picked it, and I fell in love with it immediately. And my family was really proud that I found my passion.
On working with conductor Thomas Wilkins:
Govanny: He is very expressive. He’s really funny. He knows how to communicate with the orchestra: it’s not really a one-way, “I say this, so you do that,” it’s more of a conversation. He really connects with the orchestra and expresses what he wants and we try our best to accomplish his requests.
Andrea: I love him. I really do. I love the way he conducts and I feel like there are specific people that have good chemistry with younger kids. Not everyone knows how to communicate with younger people—it’s an art. And this guy has what it takes to do it. He knows when to make a joke, he knows when to be silent, and people respect him. Someone’s presence, you can just feel when you need to respect that person. He is just amazing. I love how he directs this orchestra. It changes the sound.
On the future of classical music:
Govanny: So, I have a lot of friends who say, “Classical music is dying,” and I’m like, “Umm, no.” If you hear, for example, the Indiana Jones theme song, that’s classical music. Star Wars is classical music, not rap—it’s musical instruments making noise—so, I really don’t think it’s dying. I think it’s just beginning. Classical music is in everything. For those people who say classical music is dying, I have to disagree 100%. Like, if you see a horror movie, you’re going to hear the violins going up and up and up giving you the suspense. If you didn’t have classical music, movies would be really boring.
Andrea: I feel like music is evolving in general. But classical music is always going to be there—it’s like the base of everything. Even like how Govanny was saying in movies sometimes now they use machines to make those sounds, but it’s never the same. A machine is never going to touch your heart the way a person playing a musical instrument will touch your heart. Yes, there are people who think that classical music is dying, but we are in charge of not letting it die. So, if we can make music and we can impact someone else in the audience, they’re going to just do the same and it’s going to be like a cycle that continues over and over again.
Brian Lauritzen with Andrea and Govanny backstage at Walt Disney Concert Hall | Photo by Lydia Fong