Music — and a musical-conducting opportunity — will be front and center when the Burbank Philharmonic Orchestra opens its 30th anniversary celebration on Saturday, under the baton of Glendale High School senior Elizabeth Kim.
The 17-year-old will guest conduct the professional orchestra on opening night in the Lanterman Auditorium, 4491 Cornishon Ave., La Cañada Flintridge, with the event set to begin at 8 p.m.
Kim will conduct the overture of “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart before handing the baton to conductor Steve Kerstein, a La Cañada resident, and former Burbank High School music instructor Michael Stanley, the assistant philharmonic conductor, for an evening that will include Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 and Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C.
“I’m really excited and really nervous, but I think I’m ready,” Kim said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
She is one of three local students in the philharmonic’s “Discovery Conductors” program, in which high school students are given the opportunity to train with and conduct the professional orchestra during rehearsals and, for Kim, during a performance.
La Cañada High sophomore Harry Thuss was also selected, as was sophomore Stellaluna Lopez-Ramirez from Mendez High School in Los Angeles.
Kim’s versatility and passion stood out to Amy Rangel, Glendale High’s director of instrumental music, among the almost 200 students in her program.
Kim plays the viola, sings and is a snare drummer in her school’s marching band. She also participates in orchestras and choirs outside of school.
“Most students her age aren’t ready for that challenge, so it’s impressive what she’s able to do at such a young age,” said Rangel, a Burbank resident.
Unlike most musicians in an orchestra who are focusing on one instrument, Kim will be quarterbacking an entire team.
“It’s difficult because she has to be able to read the score, which means she has ... every part of [the] music in front of her all at once,” Rangel said.
However, Rangel said she is confident in her “superstar student,” excited for her opportunity and wants Kim to “enjoy every moment of that professional sound coming at you.”
Kerstein and Stanley will mentor the three students this season.
“What we want to do is highlight the fantastic youth we have,” Kerstein said.
Stanley will offer a master class for the group this winter, while Kerstein will work in other ways, such as providing finishing touches and honing conducting skills in the spring.
Most of the work will take place during practices, which affords students the chance to direct a professional orchestra without the pressure of a live audience.
Kerstein said he thinks this type of hands-on training is invaluable.
“It’s very expensive to conduct a professional symphony orchestra, and they don’t give anyone without that experience a chance,” he said. “So how do you get started? It’s much more difficult to get started because the barriers to entry are so high.”
The Discovery Conductors program gives high school students an opportunity rarely afforded to young musicians.
“My assistant conductor and myself both started out in high school conducting,” Kerstein said. “The problem is, it’s so difficult to get podium time.”
He added, “Most conductors now have to wait not only until they’re finished with their bachelor programs but until they’re doing master-level work.”