Chicago Music Review: CHICAGO YOUTH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRAS’ FALL CONCERT (Symphony Center, Orchestra Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on November 19, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO) consists of more than 100 musicians. They’ve received an international reputation as a premier orchestral ensemble, and recently performed at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. At their Fall Concert in Orchestra Hall, the youth performers file to their chairs (arranged in a fan shape well-suited for the Hall’s acoustics), and it’s clear that their mood matches the energy, warmth, and confidence from the friendly audience, which consists of primarily parents who observe the orchestra as they demonstrate their professionalism and dedication to the art of music.

It is exciting to watch the violins, violas, cellos, basses, woodwinds, brass, tympani, harps, and bass drums warm up, sliding up and down scales, and fingering the passages in the music they want to make sure they’ve perfected one last time before the Concertmaster approaches the stage. Under the direction of their conductor, Allen Tinkman (who is also CYSO’s Music Director), the performers don’t appear to be working; they look like they are having fun, which makes them enjoyable to watch. Additionally, these youth have their techniques mastered, moving their bows uniformly, sitting at attention, and feeding off the energy of their director. As an audience member who has been in orchestras, it’s easy to understand their excitement, nervousness, and adrenaline.

Oddly, the orchestra begins moving after just one song. There seems to be confusion in the set up and tear down of the stage, causing the audience, as well as some performers, to become fidgety and talkative. After the stage has been rearranged, Roosevelt University’s CCPA Conservatory Chorus and Chorale takes the stage with their conductor, Cheryl Frazes Hill, for the a Capella number, “Three Movements from Six Chansons.”

Aimee Stahlberg’s Stage and Cinema review of Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras Fall Concert

After that, the orchestra returns to the stage to perform alongside the CCPA, performing works by renowned French composers Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, Gabriel Fauré, Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen and Claude Debussy. Overall, the songs breathe life into the Hall and there’s an obvious excitement on stage, though with guest conductor Hill in command of both groups, there seems to be uneasiness with the younger group. It seems as though they feel stressed and nervous to be working alongside more “professional” musicians, but by the time soloist and featured performer Elizabeth Norman joins them on stage, there is a sense of calm. The CYSO performers are clearly ready to be a strong accompaniment and shine alongside her.

After intermission, the CYSO performs alone again, and a magical and beautiful thing happens: There’s something about teens understanding the importance of working as an ensemble that makes a performance feel so much more whole. When the first violins hear their shifts into 8th position be in sync and in tune, it’s joyful to watch them be cognizant that their dedication, time, and stamina is worth it. The violin is not an easy thing to conquer, and it’s so easy to quit when you spend hours rehearsing and learn that it’s a different experience every time you play. But these kids nail it, and they take pride in it, not feeling self-conscious at all about receiving the generous applause.

The performers remain focused and in character, taking pleasure in their work. They move their bodies with the music and are riveted to Tinkman, whose grand, smooth, broad arm strokes tell them to be loud, full, and smooth; the small poking prods with his baton means they need a stronger staccato. The orchestra is constantly in sync with their conductor.

There are some general things that could be cleaned to make it more professional: a stronger stage presence is needed just after intermission, there is a lack of uniformity in pizzicato, and performers should assume the “at rest” position with their instruments during short rest periods in order to avoid late entrances. But their overall performance is exciting and engaging. So much talent sits on the stage, that it’s hard to forget you’re not watching a professional orchestra.

Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Fall Concert
played November 11, 2012
for more info on CYSO’s 66th season, visit

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