2011-02-10 / Dining & Entertainment
Performance celebrates 50 years for Conejo Valley Youth Orchestra
In 1961, two dozen string music students began rehearsing together in a farmhouse near California Lutheran College.
The ensemble was formed by a CLC professor named Betty Bowen, who saw the need for music students to have an outlet for community performance.
The group would eventually become the Conejo Valley Youth Orchestra.
Through the sponsorship of the Conejo Symphony Orchestra and its director, Elmer Ramsey, CVYO has thrived.
Fifty years after its inauspicious beginnings, the program has grown to include more than 250 students from several different schools, divided into a number of ensembles.
CVYO celebrated its anniversary on a recent Sunday afternoon with a spirited program at the Fred Kavli Theatre consisting of works performed over the course of the orchestra’s history.
Like many local school groups, the CVYO ensembles are tiered according to experience and ability. The program began with the entry-level Conejo Valley Youth Strings, conducted by Karen Sanchez, performing Victor Herbert’s “March of the Toys” accompanied by the CVYO Brass Ensemble, followed by an abridged version of Sibelius’s symphonic poem “Finlandia.”
Wally Stoltz, owner of Wally World Music, himself an alumnus of CVYO some 40 years ago (as a double bass player), was one of many former alumni who spoke at the concert, recalling how CVYO set the stage for his career in music.
The Youth Strings also performed Jay Ungar’s evocative “Ashokan Farewell,” the beautiful and wistful melody that has been inexorably linked with Ken Burns’ “Civil War” documentary on PBS.
The next level up, the Conejo Valley Preparatory Youth Orchestra, led by Bill Benson, is the intermediate musical organization in the program.
This group had some of the finest moments of the afternoon, performing Gliere’s “Russian Sailors’ Dance” and the first movement from Beethoven’s first symphony, before capping off their performance with Bizet’s first suite of orchestral settings from the opera “Carmen.”
Although the various orchestras were the main features of Sunday’s concert, some of the most inspiring performances were presented by smaller ensembles.
The four-person CVYO Harp Ensemble played an enchanting version of J.S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” and a brass quintet played the sonata from the anonymously composed 17th century work “ Die Bankelsangerlieder.”
But the high point of the smaller group performances was undoubtedly CVYO Percussion Ensemble’s “Fanfare and Dance,” a vigorous, infectious work commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for composer Steven Traugh.
Directed by CVYO percussion coach Bonnie Boss, the ensemble showcased an exotic array of percussion instruments, ranging from drum kits to marimbas, maracas, ratchets and cymbals, performing a piece that brought to mind the celebratory atmosphere of Brazil’s Carnival season.
As Boss noted in her introductory remarks, the piece was performed to honor innovative percussion teacher and mallet specialist Vera Daehlin.
The Youth Orchestra, also led by Bill Benson, consists of the program’s most advanced students and generally performs major works from classical music’s standard repertoire.
This group began its portion of the concert with Elmer Ramsey himself conducting his own “Silver Jubilee,” written to commemorate the Conejo Symphony’s 25th season in 1988. This was followed by a majestic performance of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, dubbed the “Unfinished” symphony due to its having only two completed movements.
As an encore, the orchestra closed the festivities with a rousing version of the famous “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s ballet “Rodeo.”
A half-century after its modest beginnings, it is rewarding, to say the least, to see what CVYO has accomplished through its encouragement and mentoring of the Conejo Valley’s youthful musical progeny.