The Washington DC Metro Area is home to numerous arts education programs for youth. One such program is the Young Artists of America (YAA) at Strathmore. According to its press release, this "non-profit educational organization offers musical training to gifted and committed high school instrumentalists and vocalists throughout the year. Through mentorship and individualized instruction from world-renowned musicians, students train collaboratively to perform fully orchestrated, classical and musical theater concerts in state-of-the-art venues" such as the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland.
On March 8, 2015 YAA at Strathmore will present a semi-staged performance of West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette at the Music Center at Strathmore, collaborating with Strathmore education partner, the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras.
In this production, directed by Rick Davis, the two love stories are juxtaposed between modern-day Verona and New York City, resulting in what YAA calls a "fresh retelling of two classics." The single performance will feature music from Bernstein's West Side Story sung in English and Gounod's Romeo et Juliette in French. Various professional guest artists will mentor the more than 125 students involved in the production, including stage director, Rick Davis (George Mason University), choreographers Luis R. Torres (Washington Ballet) and Sara Malinowski (Loiederman Arts Magnet School), and acclaimed fight director Robb Hunter. The students will also be joined on stage by two guest opera singers of national renown: Tenor Marco Cammarota (Glimmerglass Opera) and Soprano Melissa Wimbish (1st place, NATS National Competition).
Further details on the production, as well as ticket information, can be found at: http://www.youngartistsamerica.org/events/performances/west-side-story-romeo-a-juliette.
Three young singers, Alex Stone (Tony), Adalia Jimenez (Anita) and Good Counsel High School student Hailey Giddings (Maria) highlight the performance. Stone and Jimenez recently provided BroadwayWorld.Com some thoughts about participating in YAA at Strathmore and the opportunities it offers. Here's what they said:
Alex Stone is a McLean High School student. He was a 2015 national finalist for YoungArts and recently nominated as a 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
Alex Stone on What Makes the Program Unique...
YAA at Strathmore is a one-of-a-kind organization in the Washington, DC area. It brings together talented high school vocalists and musicians from throughout the region and trains them to put up some of the largest musical productions seen on local stages. There is no other group I know of that brings together so many, providing them the chance to perform in phenomenal venues like Strathmore. This group's commitment is to offer performance opportunities for students on large-scale works and with full original orchestration. In fact, YAA is the first known program of its kind in the nation to specialize specifically in performing these works with all high school students and full orchestra. For students like me, that opportunity is just amazing.
For audiences who are not familiar with YAA, they will be blown away by the sophistication and musical excellence of their concert-style productions. YAA is also creative in the adaptations it makes for performance pieces such as when the group combined the opera Madama Butterfly with the musical score of Miss Saigon or in the upcoming production of West Side Story with Roméo et Juliette. This group's "mash-ups" of musicals with opera is a creative mix of the new and the old, the modern with the classical. Just the fact that YAA is willing to take this creative gamble is just one of the factors that make this organization unique.
Alex Stone on How He Became Involved and His Initial Experiences...
I first became interested in working with YAA last spring when they announced that composer Jason Robert Brown would be working with and leading the group's performance of Songs for a New World. It is one thing for any performer to work with the composer himself on his own piece music. That is rare in itself. But for high school students, this was an opportunity not to be missed. To my mind, YAA really put itself on the map with that. I wanted to see what the group was like before auditioning so I attended YAA's performance of Show Boat in Concert at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club. It was really cool and the group sounded absolutely amazing.
I was elated to actually be cast in Songs for a New World. Of course, I was looking forward to working with Jason Robert Brown. But I guess I was a little surprised just how great the rehearsal process was. YAA's vocal coaching is superb. They helped the group as a whole and individuals within it to work pieces to the point that extremely difficult selections became surprisingly easy. Of course rehearsing and performing with Jason Robert Brown on his own piece just took a great experience and pushed it over the top and well beyond.
Alex Stone on What It's Like Working on the Production...
Working on West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette has also been fascinating. Starting out, YAA set the production's tone by having us watch a series of videos acquainting us with the back and forth nature of the upcoming performance. We were particularly excited when we found out that our performance would be the very first time that these two productions would be put up on the same stage together.
Then we got into the actual rehearsal itself and, truth be told, West Side Story has some of the hardest music I have ever tackled. In addition to the vocal power needed behind some of the really high notes, the score calls for sensitivity and strength behind some of the really soft notes that are, by the way, also very high. Fortunately the YAA team is great at helping the vocalists with the versatility and focus needed to take on this really challenging music.
It is also really great to be working with so many talented performers. We are all there to get better at singing, to push forward past where we think we can go. And having this amazing score played by a full orchestra of over 90 talented young musicians is a luxury few seldom experience. The performance ensemble for this production comes from over 30 schools from throughout the DC area so you get to meet kids from all over. At the same time, this community is kind of small so you get to work with fellow students you have performed with previously. Bottom line - there is lots and lots of talent in this cast!
Alex Stone on YAA Artistic and Orchestra Directors....
Working with [YAA] Artistic Director Rolando Sanz has been amazing. As leader of the vocal ensemble, he teaches how to increase vocal range and stamina so that participants reach vocal levels they didn't think they were capable of. In addition, Rolando and his vocal team help students create a story arc through the song and through their voices. He has personally taught me to expand my voice and really strengthen it. I have the luxury of being a tenor training with Rolando, himself a classically-trained tenor, working on the music of Tony from West Side Story. Beyond that, he has a great understanding of how voices work so he is really helpful for all within the vocal ensemble. I would describe Rolando as a tall Grizzly Bear. I mean, he is fun and engaging but, when he needs to, he can be aggressive and forward and get things done.
Now I would describe Kristofer Sanz, YAA's orchestra director, as more of a Panther. He's just so chill working with the orchestra, kinda artsy in a very cool way.
Put them together and they are an awesome combination.
Alex Stone on Why You Should See West Side Story....
There are some really cool moments in the upcoming performance West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette. For example, the show begins with this wall of sound vocal section that is like nothing you've heard before. It sets an amazing tone for the very unique performance. I hope folks from throughout the region, whether they know this music or not, come out and hear for themselves the level of excellence area high school students can produce together.
Adalia Jimenez is a student at Blake High School in Maryland. She frequently sings the national anthem for Washington Nationals games and has been featured in the Washington Post for her scholarly achievements.
Adalia Jimenez on the Opportunity YAA Offers...
Young artists, such as myself, often look for ways to grow and perform at a higher level than previously performed. Being a part of YAA has allowed me to push myself further and it has significantly contributed to the development of my art by providing new challenges and techniques during each and every rehearsal. Their guidance and instruction have provided a more challenging experience, which I will carry with me for the rest of my life. This organization moves you forward and I look forward to seeing how far their guidance will take me during this production.
I can't wait for my family to see the show! So much hard work and dedication has been put into this production and I know it will project in our live performance on March 8th at Strathmore. This will be my first concert style musical and I hope to see you there!!