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This summer, 16-year-old Alex Brehm will visit Europe for the first time. In one hand the young musician will carry a suitcase. In the other, a violin, his instrument of 11 years.
His first stop on the other side of the Atlantic is the Smetana Hall in Prague, where he will perform for 1,200 people alongside his fellow student musicians from the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio (YOSA) on their international concert tour.
YOSA, a nonprofit organization, has a long history in San Antonio for providing accessible music education for local community students, with an emphasis on minority youth and those living in underserved areas of the city. Every two years, the top musicians in YOSA’s Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra, and several alumni players are offered positions on an international concert tour where they get to showcase their musical talents to foreign audiences, one of the various learning and performance opportunities the nonprofit provides.
On July 11, the organization will take the chosen students on a nine-day trip across central Europe where they will perform inside renowned concert halls in Prague, Vienna and Budapest.
Troy Peters, YOSA Music Director and conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra, has been planning the European tour for two years and said he has already begun planning the 2018 trip.
“Part of the goal is that we represent San Antonio to the world when we go out there,” Peters said. “We want people to have a sense of the talent there is in this town.”
YOSA has grown to include 500 elementary to college-aged student musicians making up the organization’s nine orchestras.
The student musicians headed to Europe in July have been practicing together since September, and have been working on the three pieces they will perform in Europe since February. The performance pieces include Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, Dvo?ák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, and Ewazen’s Down a River of Time, an oboe solo from YOSA alumna and current member of the San Antonio Symphony Jennifer Berg.
Seventeen-year-old violinist Victoria Acuña has grown up in YOSA. Since she joined in the fifth grade, has gone on three international tours with the organization and has learned to play several other instruments. But she said YOSA has given her much more than musical abilities.
“Before high school I was homeschooled, so YOSA was really where I met a lot of people,” Acuña said. “I learned how to mature and be a musician. (We learned) ensemble training, how to read music and the history of it (but) it’s not just limited to music. (YOSA) also expands how you are as a person.”
Emily Ye, another 17-year-old violinist, joined YOSA in 2011 as one of the youngest members of the Philharmonic Orchestra. After the quickly approaching European tour, Ye will head to Massachusetts to double major in math and psychology at Amherst College, where she plans to join their orchestra.
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For now, Ye said she is looking forward to the forthcoming July trip, which will be her third international tour with YOSA.
“I’m really excited,” Ye said. “I think it’s really nice that we are playing Dvo?ák in his birthplace. It’s kind of a little bit scary because I think Europeans might be more critical of our musical skills.”
After several performances and sightseeing across the pond, the young musicians will return to San Antonio on July 20 to begin preparing for their shows in the fall and winter honoring the late David Bowie on Nov. 6 and the late pop icon Prince on March 13.
Top image: The YOSA Summer Symphony Camp practices before their halftime performance during a San Antonio Stars game. Photo by Scott Ball.