Junior and senior selected to tour with National Youth Orchestra over summer

March 23, 2023 — by Anika Kapasi and Divya Vadlakonda
Junior violist Tejas Tirthapura and senior violinist Shannon Ma pictured with their instruments.
Junior violist Tejas Tirthapura and senior violinist Shannon Ma will tour North America over the summer with the prestigious NYO-USA.

Being accepted into the National Youth Orchestra of the U.S. (NYO-USA) is a goal many aspiring young musicians pursue every year, with only about 100 making the cut.

That’s why when junior violist Tejas Tirthapura found out he had been accepted in early February, he was filled with disbelief.

“When results came out, I found out I had gotten in when [one of my friends] posted about [their acceptance] on Instagram,” Tirthapura said. I didn’t even see [the acceptance] in my email until then and I immediately told my parents.”

Organized by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, NYO-USA is a program that brings together the “brightest young players from across the country” to “embark on a tour to some of the great music capitals of the world.”

After his family, the first people Tirthapura told were music teacher Michael Boitz and senior violinist Shannon Ma. Ma had helped Tirthapura with the application, as she was accepted into the orchestra last summer and this year as well.

The youth orchestra will be touring North America this summer with two celebrated orchestral violinists: Hillary Hahn and Gil Shaham.

“We’re playing with the best conductors that anyone could ever play with.” Tirthapura said. “I’m most excited to play with the soloists and it’s really awesome that as a high schooler, we have the opportunity to do that.”

The prestigious program comprises a multi-week training residency followed by a tour across North America alongside distinguished conductor Andrew Davis. The residency will take place in Purchase College and span over the course of two weeks, involving sectionals, full orchestra rehearsals and several workshops. 

The orchestra will play four pieces: Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” a new work by Valeria Coleman commissioned for NYO-USA’s 10th anniversary, Barber’s violin concerto with Gil Shaham and Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto with Hillary Hahn.

They will perform at the Groton Hill Music Center in Massachusetts on July 13, Carnegie Hall in New York on July 14, Le Festival de Lanaudière Joliette in Quebec, Canada, on July 16 and the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson, Wyoming on July 24. The tour will close out with the orchestra playing at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park in San Diego on July 28.

“NYO will [give me the opportunity] to get to know the top orchestral professional musicians,” Tirthapura said. “I think [the program] is a great step to doing something [similar to] this in the future, like playing in a professional orchestra.”

Applicants for the program were required to submit around four to five excerpts specific to their instrument, a solo piece to showcase the players individual talent, a written essay regarding why they wanted to attend NYO and a video essay that offered some lighthearted and fun prompts to answer, such as if they could travel anywhere in the world, where would the applicant want to travel. 

For the video essay, Tirthapura wrote how he wanted to travel to New Orleans and try the beignets at Cafe Du Monde. 

“I love food, so in the video, I talked about how I used to bake and cook when I was younger,” Tirthapura said. “I don’t think they are looking for somebody who is the best writer or has the most interesting story, [rather NYO] wants someone who they believe will be a good, well-rounded person.” 

Ma used a different video essay prompt and talked about what she enjoyed doing outside of music, including clips of her dancing and discussing how she loved to write. For the written essay, she wrote about her passion for orchestral playing, and utilized her past experience touring with them the previous summer.

“The thing I love most about music is how even though playing solos are great, playing in an orchestra is where you find your community and become a better person as well as musician because of the energy that an orchestra brings to you,” Ma said.

However, touring with NYO over the 2022 summer did not influence Ma’s acceptance in the following year. The members are chosen through a “blind audition” process, ensuring an ideal group of musicians for their tours without taking into account previous experience. 

“When I heard that [this year] was a North American tour, I originally thought it would not be as exciting as the [2022 summer Europe tour],” Ma said. “But after they told us the venues that we’re going to perform, I know that it won’t disappoint.”

Although Ma acknowledged that the acceptance looks appealing on college applications, she gained a significantly different perspective after attending the program last year, stating that the wealth of knowledge and relationships that she gained through the experience was invaluable.

“If I had to say the one thing that makes the experience really worthwhile, it would be the people,” Ma said. “It’s not just getting to play in an [nationally-recognized] orchestra, it’s meeting people from all over the country who are just so good at their instrument that you’re going to be endlessly inspired.”

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