They call themselves the “Black Tie Cacti”, and they’re the nine winners of the Cactus Pear Music Festival’s Young Artists Program for 2017. The musicians range from 16 to 18 years old, auditioned for the part back in April of this year and were chosen to perform an hour and a half program for this year’s festival. Not only is this a great opportunity for the people of San Antonio to enjoy young talent, but it is also a stepping stone for these young musicians into a lifetime of music.
Every year, young artists are chosen through an audition process and awarded full-tuition scholarships for an intense two-and-a-half week program that teaches the kids the structure of an ensemble, and how to study and perform chamber music. The kids are given private instruction and chamber music coachings by some of the Festival Artists, and exposure to future opportunities in classical music. For the first part of the program, the musicians are taught their performance music during rehearsal, and later on out into the community to perform in various retirement homes, and even in the annual Rotary Club of San Antonio meeting.
Craig Sorgi, education director of the festival, has been the head of the Young Artists’ Program for nine years and has seen the broad range of benefits that it has provided for its former musicians. “We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve had so many young artists alumni go on to professional performing careers in America’s orchestras and chamber music programs. One of them is teaching in an El Sistema program in Rochester, New York. Some are playing in major American orchestras. They all went to major conservatories and music schools around the country to pursue their musical education beyond their private studies and activities.” Last year, the festival brought back six former YAP musicians to perform in the festival, including Sorgi’s son, Collin Sorgi, who was one of the first YAP fellows and who went on to attend the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Sorgi is very happy to see the successes of his former students, and says that “It’s really heartening when you see them come back as adults.”
Although the musicians are still in high school or have recently graduated, the repertoire being played at the festival is not for the level performer. Ranging from Mozart through Zitella, the artists are challenged to step out of their comfort zones and learn new pieces in an ensemble setting. Many of these kids participated in their high school marching bands or only know how to play in an orchestra. However, they are excited to take on the challenge of the more intimate setting that chamber music provides. With fewer players, there’s little room for mistakes. Andrew Arkhipov, who plays cello in the program, says: “I’m learning a lot of new techniques from the coaches and the teachers. I already feel like a better player.”
During a visit to one of their rehearsals, I was able to hear the kids play “The Eternal Return,” an original piece composed by Icli Zitella, a modern classical music composer based in New York. He was commissioned by the festival to write a piece for the YAP, which Sorgi says was tailored for the ensemble. “After we had the auditions on April 1st, and we knew what the instrumentation the ensemble was going be, we then turned around and told [Zitella] what he had to work with. I think he did an amazing job of creating a really wonderful piece for them to play. It’s exciting for them to be able to have the opportunity to do a world premiere of a piece specifically written for them, since usually that’s reserved for professionals. I hope will be a great memory for them, and no matter what they do in their life, they’ll always look back at this experience and think ‘wow, someone wrote a piece just for me to play.’”
Check out the artists play the piece in the video below. For more information on the Young Artist Program, and to see the full list of winners, visit the YAP website.