By Michael Boo From California to New York and Florida to Idaho, high school-age members of the 2006 Honor Orchestra of America gathered at Butler University’s astounding sonic masterpiece, Clowes Hall on Saturday, March 25, 2006 to cap off the inaugural Orchestra America National Festival in Indianapolis with a stunning performance of three symphonic warhorses. The Honor Concert was the culmination of Friday and Saturday’s Orchestra America National Festival. Six orchestras from Alan C. Pope High School, Marietta, GA; Libertyville High School, Libertyville, Illinois; Mt. Lebanon High School, Mt. Lebanon, PA and Trabuco Hills High School, Mission Viejo, CA performed at Hilbert Circle Theatre, home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Orchestras received feedback on their concerts from a panel of evaluators and a post-concert clinic. “Orchestra America was an incredible experience and tons of fun,” said Joanna Hui, a senior violist from Libertyville. “It was well organized and the atmosphere was serious and fun at the same time. I really enjoyed the experience of being able to perform on the same stage as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.” “I had no expectations what it was going to be like, so I went in on this ‘blind date’ and it turned out to be really fantastic,” said Kelly Spicer, senior, cello, from Libertyville. “I mean I had no idea! Mr. [Larry] Livingston (Festival clinician) said something about the love affair we create with our orchestra directors and fellow musicians, and I can’t describe how true that statement has become for me. I truly had ‘the time of my life.’” The Orchestra America National Festival was one of several concurrent events presenting music across Indianapolis. The Bands of America National Concert Band Festival was held in Clowes Memorial Hall and the National Percussion Festival at the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. Under the baton of Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra at New England Conservatory, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and co- author with his wife of “The Art of Possibility,” the Honor Orchestra of America came together three days earlier, rehearsed extensively and delivered a performance that Maestro Zander referred to as, “practically professional.” In fact, prior to the finale concert in Clowes Hall, members of the Honor Orchestra and the other performing orchestras were treated to a sumptuous banquet, where among other speakers, Orchestra America Senior Vice President and COO Eric Martin stated, “There was a time today at dress rehearsal when I closed my eyes and asked myself, ‘What am I listening to? Am I listening to children or am I listening to professionals? At that time, there was no difference.’” Earlier in the festival, attendees were treated to master classes by esteemed professionals in all sections of the orchestra, string orchestra and full orchestra performances from high school ensembles from California, Illinois, Georgia and Pennsylvania, and a multi-media “Sci-Fi Spectacular” pops concert by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at the ISO’s home Hilbert Circle Theatre, also site of the high school orchestra performances. Thomas Akins, who has served 40 years with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in various capacities, served as Master of Ceremonies for the Orchestra America National Festival events at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. He stated, “It is gratifying to know that the new generation of orchestra performers are as dedicated technically and musically as is clearly in evidence at the Orchestra America National Festival. I was proud to be part of it. I think this was a terrific beginning for an event that is going to guide the careers of many fine musicians.” A special surprise to Honor Orchestra of America members was when touring and recording pianist Christopher O’Riley, host of NPR’s “From the Top,” showed up at the end of Friday evening’s rehearsal and performed an impromptu recital of Radiohead arrangements. At the grand finale concert, the Honor Orchestra of America deftly performed Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18, Mvt. 1 (with Christopher O’Riley as soloist) and Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber. Master of Ceremonies Carl Grapentine, longtime host of the Morning Program on Chicago’s WFMT-FM and presenter of pre-concert lectures for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and other organizations introduced each selection. Maestro Zander also spoke to the audience prior to each selection and enlightened all to the subtleties of the selections performed, raising awareness so that the music became much more than just little black dots on white sheets of paper. Prior to the performance of Romeo and Juliet, he explained the story line and how the individual music themes quite literally told the story, pointing out that the members of the orchestra were not far in age from the two title characters. He then wrung every bit of emotion from the music and left the acoustic panels on the ceiling vibrating. After the Rachmaninoff, Maestro Zander got to the essence of his mission by telling the audience, “The rest of the world needs us. Without us, they can’t be fully human.” During the March from the Hindemith, the heroics of the entrance of the famed French Horn theme made it practically impossible to just sit without conducting along. Indeed, it seemed that Maestro Zander could get blood out of a turnip. He has no off switch. The members of the orchestra responded to him like that fabled group of youth responded to the Pied Piper. As exciting as the inaugural Orchestra America were, next year promises an even bigger festival, with more high school orchestras in attendance and famed violinist Pinchas Zukerman as soloist with the Honor Orchestra of America. Larry J. Livingston, Chair of conducting at the University of Southern California, will lead the all-star ensemble, who will perform two shared concerts with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Music Director Mario Venzago will guest conduct. The 2007 Orchestra America National Festival will be held in Indianapolis March 15-17, continuing as a non-competitive national festival. All outstanding high school orchestra string, wind and percussion performers are invited to apply for the Honor Orchestra of America, which in 2007 will also perform the first half of a shared concert with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra over two evenings as part of the ISO’s classical subscription series. This will truly be an unforgettable experience for all involved. In addition, outstanding high school string and full orchestras are invited to apply to perform at the festival. Orchestra directors select their own programs and there is no required repertoire. As there are no ratings or rankings given out by the clinicians who will provide valuable feedback on the performances, directors and orchestras are free to stretch their artistic legs, striving for innovation, growth and excellence.