By Néstor CASTIGLIONE
Classical music often conjures up visions of dour looking old men and seemingly complex behavioral protocols for concerts. In short, people regard it as the past, not the active present or future. But, as Brad Keimach is willing to tell you, classical music isn’t just thriving today – it’s also growing the next generation of artists. As music director of the Glendale Youth Orchestra (GYO), he has had a direct impact on the genre’s future.
A former student of Leonard Bernstein, Keimach watched how his mentor handled a high school orchestra at Tanglewood in Massachusetts. The experience was a seminal one for him.
“He was so warm and encouraging,” Keimach recalled. “He gave them everything he had. Watching him I knew this was an example I had to remember.”
Keimach moved to Southern California in the late 1990s. In 2000 he took over the reins of the GYO and has led it ever since.
One of the reasons that the partnership between conductor and orchestra has been so lasting and successful is because he has never condescended to performers due to their age.
“I treat them both as professionals and as if they were my own children,” he said of the GYO members. “So [rehearsing and performing are] very loving processes, exciting ones. It’s a constant world of discovery for us. I ask them to do things here that they likely wouldn’t be asked in any other orchestra. The results they give me are stunning.”
YouTube clips of him with the orchestra bear ample testimony to this, with their performances burning alight with much of the energy and passion that Keimach’s mentor Leonard Bernstein was able to draw from his players.
A point of pride for the orchestra and its music director is that it plays some of the most famous compositions in the orchestral canon without compromising on the often considerable demands set in the scores.
“No arrangements,” Keimach reminded. “The repertoire I chose are the pillars of the orchestral canon.”
Among the works that the GYO has played under Keimach have been the last six symphonies by Mozart, nearly all the Beethoven symphonies, and even more technically challenging works by Debussy and Ravel. Doing so has provided the GYO musicians valuable experience in the principles of musicianship and performance.
“I told the kids that we’re the advocates for these composers,” he said. “We need to get inside their minds, their hearts. It’s a duty.”
The orchestra’s ranks consist of children from as young as 8 to a handful of post-graduates. Among them are also the very soloists who feature in some of the GYO programs.
“All our soloists come from the orchestra,” Keimach said. “We nurture them from within.”
With its new season just around the corner, the GYO is eager to look for new players to add to its ranks. As new faces light up the stage of the Alex Theatre later this year, Keimach is looking forward to greeting them and fostering them in the ideals of good musicianship.
“We just keep on growing and teaching,” he said. “The things that are learned in the GYO are skills that will be used to be successful anywhere.”
Auditions for the GYO will take place on Sunday, Aug. 29 at the Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty (6300 Forest Lawn Drive) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Students auditioning are requested to arrive at least 20 minutes ahead of time in order to warm-up and relax. For more information, visit the GYO’s website at glendaleyouthorchestra.com or call (626) 799-7159.