Ironically, the San Diego Youth Symphony isn’t so young anymore. It turned 70 on June 18, kicking up its aging heels with a free concert in Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama. The show amounted to a kick-off of the group’s platinum anniversary – but it also most certainly heralded a life-altering experience for each of the 80 members, some 20 of whom live in La Jolla. The group is on its way to perform in China June 23 to July 5, accompanied by San Diego Symphony music director Jahja Ling and youth symphony helmer Jeff Edmons, now in his 20th year with the group.
Stops include Yantai, a San Diego sister city; Shanghai, where the group will present a Fourth of July program; and Beijing, home of the China Philharmonic and the famed Forbidden City Concert Hall.
Edmons noted that many members, ranging in age from 8 to 25, have grown with the organization; some, he said, have been with the symphony for more than 10 years. The China tour, he added, is their “benchmark for an enhanced life… This is a wonderful artistic project that celebrates each individual and also what can be achieved as a group. Collectively, we will share our music with new audiences, mak[ing] lifelong connections and memories.”
The youth symphony visited China in 1981, touring in Canton, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. La Jolla resident and Bishop’s High School junior Jay Shankar wasn’t so much as a glint in a music teacher’s eye back then; even so, the clarinetist fields a question about new audiences with a seasoned hand.
“I can bet,” Shankar said, “that almost no one in the audience will have heard [Aleksandr] Glazunov’s “Overture Solennelle” before. That is, to me, what is great about the tour. The audience will be able to experience amazing music that they have never heard before, and who knows; it might be an inspiration to students in the audience.
“I also know that we are going to [be] visiting a music school in Beijing, which is something that will be enriching for both [symphony] students and the students over there.”
Western classical music may be relatively unknown in China, but Shankar’s instrument isn’t. Clarinets often feature rubber, wood and nickel-plated keys from China, and Shankar appreciates the result.
“To me,” Shankar said, “the clarinet is extremely special because of its versatility. The clarinet can cover extreme ranges of pitch and also has such a beautiful, dark and rich sound. In addition, the clarinet gets some of the best solos in orchestral literature, for example the opening of ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ I might be a bit biased, but the clarinet is my favorite of the woodwinds.”
So Shankar carries a most welcome common denominator, in the form of his instrument. He and his fellow La Jollans can expect to forge the same connections in kind – the sort that the greatest music and musicians fuel even a quarter of the world away.