Following months of planning, preparation and anticipation, Tees Valley Youth Orchestra finally celebrated their 50th Anniversary with a performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall.
The Journey Begins
Tees Valley Youth Orchestra departed from Ian Ramsey Academy shortly after 6am on Monday 8th July. 120 students of varying ages, accompanied by 13 members of staff and an infant, disembarked at Manchester Airport. All were ready and eager to begin their most ambitious tour to date. Shortly after arriving at the airport, the party were organised into travel groups before they boarded the plane. These travel groups would continue throughout the tour as TVYO explored New York City.
After a fairly restful 7 hour flight the orchestra landed at JFK Airport and it wasn’t long before the group were headed towards the heart of New York City.
The city was bustling with life. As the Youth Orchestra made their way through the bustling streets of New York, block by block, the diverse and vibrant culture of Americanism was apparent. Skyscrapers loomed overhead as the coaches navigated their way to the Gallivant Hotel.
Located in the heart of Manhattan, just off from Times Square, the Gallivant Hotel would be a perfect base for the activities ahead. Once checked into the hotel the tour group were granted permission to explore the local area and grab much needed food and drink. By 10pm TVYO had returned to The Gallivant, ready for the following day’s activity.
Seeing the sights
The first full day of the tour was packed full of activity. In the morning, the group was split into two: one group explored the Natural History Museum while the other journeyed to Central Park. Reuniting after lunch, the group was split again with many visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the smaller sub-group exploring Central Park and 5th Avenue, both of which are within a 5 minute walking distance.
After spending 3 hours at either the museum or at Central Park it was time for TVYO to return to the hotel to get ready for their evening meal at Planet Hollywood. Thanks to the generous fundraising that the Friends of Tees Valley Youth Orchestra held over 2 years, the tour organisers were able to provide the party with four evening meals out of the five nights that they were in New York.
Immediately following the meal at the memorabilia and nostalgic themed restaurant, the TVYO members who had paid to see the hit Broadway show ‘Aladdin’ walked to The New Amsterdam Theatre – just off from Times Square – and those who had not instead travelled to Brooklyn Bridge.
The group who visited Brooklyn Bridge took the Subway and were treated with two views of the iconic structure: one from a distance where the bridge can be seen over the Hudson River and another view from the bridge itself. This walking expedition coincided with the sun setting on New York and the views of the New York City skyline were truly breath-taking. After returning to the hotel via the Subway, both groups returned to their rooms for some well needed rest.
Exploring the city that never sleeps
On Wednesday, the group walked to the DiMenna Centre for Classical Music. This performance space served as the rehearsal venue for TVYO to adequately prepare for the following day’s momentous concert, allowing the string players (who had received hired instruments at the start of the week) the chance to perform a run through of their 50th Anniversary performance.
The DiMenna Centre is an unparalleled resource serving the entire musical community – from soloists to symphony orchestras, through state-of-the-art facilities. They were aided by a tuning and orchestral arrangement professional.
The rehearsal wrapped up at 1pm and the group headed back to the hotel for a short time. Later that afternoon, they walked to the Rockefeller Centre and visited the Top of the Rock. Climbing 70 stories this enormous skyscraper offered tremendous views of lower Manhattan where iconic buildings such as the Empire State Building and the One World Trade Centre were clearly visible.
Once back on solid ground the students were given free time to explore the surrounding area to the Rockefeller Plaza. This included big brand stores such as the Nintendo Store. Once students returned to the organised meeting point they all travelled back to the hotel to pick up belongings ready for the evening events. For dinner, TVYO visited Ellen’s Stardust Diner; a restaurant that is famous for its singing waitstaff and home to Broadway’s future talents. After the meal the Orchestra walked to Times Square before making their way to the hotel to make final preparations for tomorrow’s big concert.
On Thursday morning, the students were granted free time where they could go shopping and explore the local area. By 12:30pm, after grabbing snacks, the tour group walked, with instruments in tow, to Carnegie Hall. Once on stage and set up, they rehearsed for 3 hours 30 minutes – more than enough time to play through each piece. At 7:30pm the doors opened and hundreds of parents, family, friends, supporters and New Yorkers filled the auditorium. The concert swiftly commenced at 8pm.
TVYO perform at Carnegie Hall
The program featured Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain’, arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov. This was followed with another piece by Mussorgsky with ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, orchestrated by Ravel. After the intermission they then performed Mahler’s ‘Symphony No. 1 in D major’. For an encore Tees Valley Youth Orchestra performed ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ by John Sousa. The American-themed song was a very appropriate way to draw the concert to a close.
Conductor of TVYO, Nicholas Nowicki, commented ahead of the special concert: “I know I speak on behalf of the entire orchestra and their families when I say we are extremely privileged and grateful to be able to present our performance to you tonight on this, the most hallowed of stages. I’d like to say a special thank you to everyone who made tonight possible; our fabulous supportive families, TVMS, FTVYO and of course the players themselves, whose constant dedication, passion for music and teamwork is a source of continuous inspiration for me. I’d also like to say a big thank you to my family for their support. We hope that you enjoy tonight’s performance.”
Speaking after the performance, Susan Robertson (TVMS Manager) congratulated the members of TVYO for their “historic” performance and hinted that there would be more great things to come for the Orchestra.
After 2 hours and 30 minutes the concert concluded to a rousing round of applause and a standing ovation. It was heartening to see 2 years of hard work from the performers, teachers and staff finally pay off. Soon after the concert TVYO exited Carnegie Hall and made their way to The Gallivant Hotel. As promised, following the huge success of the performance, staff allowed students the opportunity to meet and spend time with family and friends in Times Square. At midnight the group reunited back at the hotel for sleep – the excitement of the evening still very much alive.
The last day
On Friday, TVYO began their last full day in New York by setting off on a walking expedition of the city. They visited High Line, Chelsea Markets, Washington Square Park, Union Square and Broadway shops. At 2:30pm TVYO arrived back at the hotel briefly to pick up items they would need for the rest of the day. They headed back onto Times Square and walked a short distance to the Hard Rock Cafe for a late lunch. Hard Rock Cafe is a restaurant chain made famous for its rock and roll memorabilia collection.
Afterwards, the group who had paid to watch the New York Yankees vs Toronto Bluejays baseball game made their way to the stadium. The other group chose to visit the 9/11 memorial in the financial district of lower Manhattan, then walked to the Staten Island Ferry docks.
The Staten Island Ferry provided students with a clear view of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline as the sun began to set. Both groups returned to the hotel by midnight, leaving them with a small amount of time to pack and ensure they had everything they needed for the journey home.
On Saturday it was travel day as TVYO made their way to the airport, eventually boarding the plane by 7pm and landing at 7am (UK time). They arrived back at Ian Ramsey Academy by 12pm. After a week of non-stop activity and memories to last a lifetime, the tour was over.
Looking to the future
Following the tremendous success of the New York Tour and the Carnegie Hall concert, speculation about a follow-up tour next year has naturally been discussed. However, due to the financial and logistical undertaking that the New York Tour was for the Youth Orchestra, their families, TVMS and FTVYO, there will be no tour in 2020. Instead, the Youth Orchestra will concentrate on recruiting new members to share in the ensemble’s exciting future as well as delving into more come complex and exciting pieces of work.
The TVYO tour will return in 2021 and, although no details have been released at this stage, the achievements of TVYO show no sign of stopping. Here’s to another 50 years of Tees Valley Youth Orchestra!