YMF Debut Orchestra limbers up for China

His fingers fly over the Steinway & Sons piano as if his life depends on it. At times they leave the audience trembling with emotion, as overwhelming as a roller coaster ride at Magic Mountain. The young pianist is 20-year-old Vijay Venkatesh, who started taking professional lessons at the age of four.

Last Sunday, Vijay Venkatesh and guest conductor Toshiyuki Shimada joined the prestigious Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra for an afternoon performance of Piotr IlyichTchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23, at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage.

After the charismatic pianist’s performance, Venkatesh, who was the Grand Prize winner of the 2008 Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards, bowed, and left the stage with a smile.

Expectations were set high after intermission when the YMF Debut Orchestra performed Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68.

A very enthusiastic crowd started to applaud before the official ending of the 45-minute symphony, making Maestro Shimada energetically extend his hand toward the audience, almost saying,”not yet you morons!”

With a smile on his face, he quickly turned around and said, “two more movements.” The Broad Stage erupted in laughter.

Shimada currently holds the position of music director and conductor with the Yale Symphony Orchestra and has a special place in his heart for the YMF, where his career got off the ground. “It gives young musicians an opportunity to shine,” said Shimada about the Debut Orchestra.

When asked who they prefer to play, Tchaikovsky or Brahms, the young musicians burst out in laughter, “Brahms!”

“Brahms just takes a lot more teamwork," said Johanna Yarborough who plays the French horn and just moved to Los Angeles from Florida after her successful audition for the Young Musicians Foundation. "Everyone’s part is equally important. Tchaikovsky without the piano is nothing.”

“Everyone wants to be the star sometimes,” said Hillary Hempel, a violinist from Chicago, who practices her instrument for up to eight hours a day.

“It can happen,” said David Hagee from Cincinnati, Ohio who contributes to the orchestra by playing the trombone. “In the end it’s important to remember the music. That’s the reason we’re all here for.”

The Young Musicians Foundation is comprised of 70 of Los Angeles’ most talented 15 to 25-year-old musicians, who perform at least four free public concerts each year. This show at the Broad Stage was one of those events.

This December, the Debut Orchestra is invited to Shanghai, where they will be touring seven cities, all expenses paid and performing at the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s visit to China, honoring the first time a United States president visited China while in office.

Their New Year’s concert will be broadcasted to a viewership of 20 million people.

For a chance to see these gifted musicians live, check out the Broad Stage program in February, when the YMF Debut Orchestra will be returning to the stage for another delightful performance with guest conductor Jung Ho Pak.