- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

Like many of her peers, 18-year-old Jordan Delphos is inclined to talk fast, likes hanging out with friends, has hobbies of note, keeps a cell phone handy and generally gets along well with her parents.
But how many people her age have conducted an orchestra with Leonard Slatkin and Yo-Yo Ma waiting in the wings the way Miss Delphos did last Tuesday evening at Wolf Trap?
The McLean resident conducted 120 fellow members of the newly formed Youth Orchestra of the Americas in a spirited version of "The Star Spangled Banner." The piece led off an ambitious evening of Dvorak and Mahler that was only the third concert the group had given after just three weeks together a learning experience for all involved but especially for Miss Delphos, who had volunteered to conduct.
"It is such a great opportunity and privilege to conduct my country's national anthem in my hometown. On a stage that I have seen more concerts at than I could ever count," she had scribbled hurriedly in her diary in anticipation of the event while on her way home from a recent 2-week stay at the New England Conservatory in Boston.
A violinist by training, she is among 32 young musicians from the United States four of them from the Washington area chosen in blind auditions this spring to participate in the project, which is spearheaded by Washington businesswoman and arts patron Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg, with Deutsche Bank as sponsor.
The orchestra's musicians, who range in age from 13 to 25 and hail from 20 countries across the Americas, had met at the New England Conservatory for their initial rehearsals and two inaugural performances prior to the Wolf Trap debut. Friendships quickly formed across boundaries, ages, and language. Music and international harmony bloomed.
Miss Delphos' concern Tuesday, however, was temporarily of a more mundane kind. Garbed in black comfort clothes like the other young women musicians (the men wore white long-sleeved shirts and black bow ties), she worried that the bottom of her bolero top would separate from her form-fitting pants during exertions on the conductor's podium.
"My mother will kill me if any skin shows," she said. All went well in spite of her fears and the challenge of how to relax before a sold-out audience of 5,000.
The orchestra left Washington for Mexico City early Wednesday morning for a 2-week, seven-concert performing stint that will conclude Aug. 16 in Caracas, Venezuela.
Their repertoire is mainly classical difficult works by Prokofiev, Beethoven and Mahler as well as a specially commissioned contemporary American piece and a range of highly rhythmic compositions of Latin origin.

The members' musical expertise varies, but all are on scholarships that cover roughly $10,000 in expenses. Many come from impoverished homes and communities. One Latin American candidate who brought a homemade cello to his audition later was supplied with a standard model. Others have graduated from prestigious music conservatories such as the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and are already performing as professionals.
In spite of the orchestra's youth, critics to date have applauded the performances. The Boston Globe gave them a rave review. "They play better than the National Symphony, and they're cheaper," commented a music professional Tuesday who asked to remain anonymous.
The special draw at Wolf Trap the YOA's only local appearance at full strength was having cellist Yo-Yo Ma perform with the orchestra under the baton of National Symphony Orchestra musical director Leonard Slatkin. The concert lasted three hours and included four encores. Mr. Ma then stayed up until nearly midnight exchanging hugs, kisses and autographs at a rose-strewn champagne reception for patrons and family members.
"These kids are so amazing," a smiling Mr. Ma remarked afterward. "Their passion. Their discipline."
Their ongoing education, he might well have added both artistically and emotionally.
For Miss Delphos, a Madeira School student and daughter of prosperous and supportive parents, the chance to become part of this ambitious project the creation in just under two years of a full-blown touring musical organization of professional caliber was enlightening on many levels.
An experienced violinist who studies with the NSO's Luis Haza, she hopes one day to become a conductor. Working under the various conductors directing the YOA would be, for her, an especially valuable component. Youthful-looking Christopher Wilkins, formerly music director of the San Antonio Symphony and a YOA resident conductor, gave her some lessons prior to Wolf Trap.
"It was such an honor to be coached by him," she wrote in her diary.
"She's a go-getter," Mr. Wilkins says of Miss Delphos.
The ebullient Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, was a VOA guest conductor Tuesday and will be with them again in Brazil.
Diary-keeper Miss Delphos described Mr. Zander in turn as "lively and hilarious," someone who "sometimes walks off the stage and dances in the audience during rehearsals to try and get us excited."

Youth is relative in such surroundings. Prodigies in the group include Venezuelan-born conductor Gustavo Dudamel, 21, skilled beyond his years. As Miss Delphos observed in one of her diary entries, she found that after a "scary" period during the first three days in Boston, she enjoyed being on her own and independent of her family for the first time. She felt herself going back and forth between teenager and adult.
"Basically I've never been out on my own. Usually I complain about rehearsal and school, but once I got adjusted I could do it," she wrote. "Probably because of all the freedom I was given. Musically, I'm growing more from listening from the conductors. I got told not to use my head so much. Chris Wilkins told me you have to feel in control; you can't hope the orchestra will follow."
"I love the fact that I am making friends from all over North, South, and Central America," she noted in writing on another occasion. "It's also great making friends of all different ages, have friends that are 16 and friends that are even 24. My roommate is from Venezuela, and almost every night we have 'language lessons' in our room where we talk to each other in both English and Spanish. So far, I think the most important thing I'm learning here about myself is that I'm really happy being around music all day long. Though we spend about 8 hours a day rehearsing, I don't really mind it.
"Time has flown by, but I truly feel I have grown as a person during my stay here," she noted just before the group's flight to Washington. "I've never had an experience thus far in my life that could match this one."
The schedule wasn't all work and worry. Orchestra members were treated to a number of outings. Some, like Miss Delphos, were able to perform in a much smaller group on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage in April and at a benefit with YOA Artistic Adviser Placido Domingo at the Organization of the American States in May. The entire orchestra could not get together until July, after school terms had ended.
Mr. Zander invited all 120 to his home in Cambridge, Mass., for dinner. They traveled to Tanglewood in western Massachusetts to hear the New York Philharmonic and took a ferry ride to an offshore island for a traditional Boston clam and lobster bake. Mrs. Ochoa-Brillembourg invited them to her family's well-appointed weekend retreat on the Eastern Shore for a day, and the Delphos family treated the group to an afternoon picnic and swim in their McLean home, during which a young Texan got lost in the neighborhood while riding a borrowed bicycle and was escorted back to base in a police car.
Difficulties developed, of course. A violinist hurt his wrist playing soccer. Miss Delphos reported on a problem with favoritism and the fact that one of violinists couldn't read music. There was some tension in the horn section, as well, she said over the telephone from Boston early one morning after staying out with musician friends until 4 a.m.
But the general attitude in the group, she said, was laid back "to say, 'I'm getting a free trip to Rio so I can't complain.'"

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide