Chicago Youth in Music Festival forges nationwide partnerships

Riccardo Muti leads an open rehearsal during the 2015 Chicago Youth in Music Festival.

Todd Rosenberg Photography

For young musicians, the experience of gathering with like-minded peers and being mentored by professionals from the classical-music field offers a priceless opportunity for learning and growth. Since it began in 2009, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s Chicago Youth in Music Festival has taken this twofold approach, bringing together students from school orchestras and bands, community youth ensembles and music schools to participate in coaching sessions, rehearsals and performances with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and prominent conductors such as the CSO’s Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti.

After being canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic, the festival returns in April 2022 with an ambitious nationwide partnership spanning 10 cities and with a focus on supporting extraordinary young musicians from backgrounds underrepresented in classical music. A new component this year will be a summit that invites music teachers, administrators and families of music students to participate in strategic conversation and collaboration. In partnership with the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative and the National Instrumentalist Mentoring and Advancement Network, the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute will present the 2022 Chicago Youth in Music Festival and National Pathways Summit.

The Negaunee Music Institute is a co-founder and member of the advisory council for the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative, launched in the 2019-20 season with the mission of preparing young musicians from underrepresented backgrounds to attend top music schools and thus ultimately helping to diversify American orchestras. The National Instrumentalist Mentoring and Advancement Network is “a national coalition that works to align, promote and develop equitable opportunities and inclusive environments to advance BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color] instrumentalists to thrive in classical music.”

Representatives of similar programs from cities across the United States have eagerly agreed to participate. The 52 students selected for the 2022 Festival Orchestra were identified through a competitive audition process and represent programs in Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Nashville, San Antonio, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.

According to Director of Education and the Negaunee Music Institute Jonathan McCormick, it’s important for students “to engage with peers who have similar dreams, aspirations and challenges. The Youth in Music Festival will be a rigorous musical experience and a social event as well, so the orchestra can really bond.”

From April 9 to 11, students will participate in sectional rehearsals and coaching sessions with musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago and Chicago Sinfonietta, along with attending a CSO concert conducted by Maestro Muti. Lina González-Granados, the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Apprentice of the CSO, will conduct the Festival Orchestra in rehearsals.

By rehearsing with professional musicians, younger musicians will experience first-hand the high level of technique and artistry to which they may aspire. “It’s so meaningful to play alongside a musician who is more advanced than you are," McCormick said. “This can really accelerate a student’s growth.” 

2020 Chicago Youth in Music Festival

Todd Rosenberg Photography

While students are engaged in these activities, the National Pathways Summit will involve teachers, administrators and families in conversations about the future of programs that support young musicians from underrepresented backgrounds.

“[The summit] will be an opportunity for us to get particulars about what specific programs might be doing, a chance to share viewpoints about some of the challenges and to come to some consensus over what we think are best practices — things that have proven to be successful and therefore should be considered for every program,” said CMPI Project Advisor Adrienne Thompson. “There’s no reason for us to do things by trial and error if we can benefit from each other’s successes and challenges.”

NIMAN Board Chair Stanford Thompson concurred: “My hope is that the [summit participants] will walk away with a sharpened understanding of how we can better support our students’ musical development and work collaboratively to provide them with opportunities to help them advance in the future.”

Lina González-Granados will be the featured speaker at a keynote event for the National Pathways Summit at the Merit School of Music, where she will also conduct the Festival Orchestra in Valerie Colman’s Seven O-Clock Shout, a work commissioned in 2020 by the Philadelphia Orchestra to honor frontline workers of the pandemic.

The Festival and Summit will conclude with an open rehearsal led by Riccardo Muti on April 11 at 7:00 p.m. The rehearsal, featuring Liszt’s Les préludes, is free and open to the public, with reservations required.

“It will be a peak musical experience for the students to work with Maestro Muti,” said Adrienne Thompson.

Summing up his anticipation of the 2022 Chicago Youth in Music Festival and National Pathways Summit, Stanford Thompson said, “I look forward to watching our next generation of classical musicians have the opportunities to be inspired by their peers and professional musicians in this unique side-by-side festival and connecting with my counterparts across the country to discover new ways to sustain our programs and increase our impact.”

2020 Chicago Youth in Music Festival

Todd Rosenberg Photography