A night of awe for L.A.’s youth orchestra


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It was an evening of awe.

They stood in the corridor, instruments in hand; their soft whispers wondered what it was like on the other side. Then, as 100 or so pint-size musicians of the YOLA EXPO Centre Youth Orchestra shuffled their feet across the deserted stage, their eyes scanned the perimeters and gleamed with astonishment.

“Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. It’s soooooooo big!” said timpani player Adam Hart, 11, a sixth grader at Frederick Douglass Academy.


Some arched their heads back, gazing up at the ceiling. Others stood and ogled at the vast space where an audience would watch them on Saturday when, under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, they perform during the “¡Bienvenido Gustavo!” concert at the Hollywood Bowl. It marks Dudamel’s first performance as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

They stood diminutive against the magnitude of their achievement.

After finding their places in the orchestra seating arc, the young musicians continued inspecting their new stage — pointing at the ‘huge’ lights overhead or the ‘weird’ electric cords that coiled on the floor or the “cool” lights their music stands had.

Then “he” appeared without warning.

“Look! There’s Gustavo! Look! Look! It’s him!” squealed 9-year-old cymbal player Emanuel Rojas.

An observation followed: “Did he cut his hair?”

Dudamel -- sporting a cropped coif, jeans and a black YOLA graphic T-shirt -- greeted his musicians: “OK, let’s play!”

Instruments up, they waited for their cue. With a swoop of Dudamel’s wand, the notes of an abbreviated “Ode to Joy” drifted through the air. Each child stared intensely as Dudamel’s staccato hand motions guided them along. Occasionally, he’d halt the music to give notes: “We need a little bit more speed in our bow” or “I need more expression” or “To play the best music, you have to play a little bit more from memory.”

Then, wanting to hear what the audience would be hearing, Dudamel ditched the conductor’s podium and made his way through the empty audience area. Up the first tier. Then the second. Then the third.


He asked them to play the last three bars. Again. And again. “Almost.” One more time. Then, “Bravissimo!”

As the rehearsal came to an end, Dudamel looked around at the faces before him. With a smirk on his face, he offered this simple instruction to his young disciples for their Saturday performance: “Let’s enjoy it!”

The first half of the special — and free — program will include artists from diverse genres and generations. The lineup: Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez; Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) with the Silverlake Conservatory Ensemble; Herbie Hancock with the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Band; Andrae Crouch with an all-ages gospel choir; David Hidalgo and Taj Mahal with Los Cenzontles.

But the highlight for these kids is their performance. After all, they’ve been preparing all summer; all those early Saturday morning rehearsals will reach their culmination when they take their seats on the grand stage.

The YOLA EXPO Centre Youth Orchestra is the L.A. Philharmonic’s initiative to build youth orchestras in underserved communities throughout Los Angeles. The program began in fall 2007 and serves more than 200 students, ages 6 to 17; they each receive free instruments and lessons. It’s modeled after El Sistema, the Venezuelan music education program that fostered Gustavo Dudamel.

And the young musicians hope to make the Venezuelan prodigy proud.

‘We are gonna rock it on Saturday,’ said sixth-grader Adam. ‘The people won’t know what hit them.’


--Yvonne Villarreal

Check back Monday for a full story about YOLA and Saturday’s performance.

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L.A. Phil to webcast Gustavo Dudamel’s Oct. 3 Hollywood Bowl concert