By Bridgette M. Redman
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
The Glendale Youth Orchestra and its maestro, Henry Shin, want to offer Angelenos a glimmer of hope.
On Sunday, Nov. 21, the 32-year-old organization will return to live performances in front of an audience after more than 20 months away.
The 6 p.m. concert will be held at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
“Having gone through nearly a year and a half with the pandemic and all of this stress and everything we’ve had to deal with in our lives, if people want any kind of an escape from it, or a glimmer of hope to know that there are good things happening, they should really come to our concert, because that’s what we want to provide,” Shin said.
“We want to provide relief. This whole first concert has been a relief from having to sit in front of our computers.”
Because not everyone is ready to return to group environments, the orchestra will have about 20 musicians who will perform as a chamber-size orchestra.
The program features Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Anderson’s “The Typewriter” and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”
Coming out of the pandemic left the organization with a lot of uncertainties, Shin said.
“When we got the greenlight to go back in person, we knew there would be some hesitant families and students who don’t feel comfortable,” Shin said. “We didn’t know how many would come back or who might show up. In the end, it’s exactly as we thought. People are still wanting to wait it out and our numbers are a little smaller than before, understandably so.”
The two main pieces, “Peter and the Wolf” and “Appalachian Spring,” are chamber versions, which is appropriate for the youth orchestra’s size and instrumentation.
“I try to pick repertoire that is meaningful and challenging,” Shin said. “These are not exactly easy pieces. I’m trying to keep the standards high and the students engaged. That’s really what informed my choices — who do I have in the orchestra and what pieces work with the instruments we have.”
Shin joined the organization in 2019 and led just two concerts before COVID-19 forced it to shut down. He took over from the retiring leader Brad Keimach, who was given the title of conductor emeritus after his 19-year tenure.
Keimach will return for the role of narrator in “Peter and the Wolf.”
“Usually, an orchestra likes to bring in a celebrity or an actor for that part,” Shin said. “For me, I wanted to do something more homegrown. Mara (Kelly, board of directors) said, ‘Why don’t we invite Brad back?’ I said, ‘That’s a fantastic idea.’ I called him up, and he was so excited. I like to keep traditions alive.”
Shin said many of the musicians performed under him and that Keimach has made a “significant mark and impact not just on the orchestra but on the community.”
To keep musicians safe, they are following county distancing guidelines and wearing masks. No one is sharing music stands or music. The wind and brass players are spaced farther apart.
“It makes it a little harder to play together,” Shin said. “They’re used to sitting next to each other and listening to each other. Being so far apart makes it harder, and they are adjusting to it.”
The brass and wind players have special masks that have a slit for mouthpieces, which reduces the spewing of aerosols.
Shin stresses to his musicians the importance of having fun and making friends. He said making music as a group is one of the art form’s greatest gifts.
“Playing in an orchestra or a large ensemble is the one activity where people all prepare their music differently,” Shin said. “We all have different opinions of how the music goes. We all play. We all voice our opinions. We all listen to one another and, in the end, we ultimately come to a consensus — but we do all that without talking.”
He said the goal is to make beautiful, harmonious music and the conductor acts as a mediator throughout the eight or nine weeks that they work on the music.
“Our governments can learn from this,” Shin said. “It’s not always black and white. You can come to an agreement. You don’t have to shout at each other. We can do this. Music and orchestra playing — we definitely know that this can happen.”
Shin praises the sense of family that he has found in the orchestra. When he walks into rehearsals, it’s like coming home. Creating music has been therapeutic for the students who have been apart because of the pandemic. He hopes the show will lift the audience’s spirits, too.
“I invite anyone who feels like they are in a situation where they want to get away, especially if they can’t travel or if they are afraid of the pandemic, to come and listen to some live music with us,” Shin said. “We want to offer that relief to people.”
Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Anderson’s “The Typewriter”
and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”
WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21
WHERE: Alex Theater, 216 N. Brand Boulevard, Glendale
COST: Visit website for information