10 Fabulous Pieces for High-Level Youth Orchestras - Part 1

October 12, 2017 Dr. Carolyn Watson

Renowned conductor Dr. Carolyn Watson shares with us some of her favorite pieces for talented young orchestras in this two-part article.

As this school year begins, I thought I’d share some thoughts regarding repertoire I have conducted with high-level young orchestras that has proven both popular and effective. The works included don’t necessarily need to be performed in their entirety as rehearsal time is often at a premium, particularly in a school environment. Selecting a movement or two offers students a taste of the larger work, an experience of the chosen composer, and often covers the same pedagogical concepts.

The five works below are the first in a two-part series, so if you enjoy these suggestions, keep an eye out for the second part on Encore’s Backstage Blog!


1. Bernstein Divertimento for Orchestra 18'

A work I believe should be performed more often, this wonderfully fun piece will particularly appeal to the inquisitive minds and musicologists in your orchestra! A quirky composition comprising eight short and varied movements centered on musical parodies and jokes, it references Beethoven, Stravinsky, Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel, Sousa, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. A brassy fanfare opening movement gives way to a beautiful strings-only waltz in 7/8 (parodying the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6) before a winds-only Mazurka, a samba, a blues and a Sousa-esque March finale concluding with the brass section on their feet. Performance directions such as ‘imbecilicly and cretinously’ will have your orchestra in fits of laughter as well!


2. Montsalvatge Desintegracion Morfologica de la Chacona de J.S. Bach 10'

A brilliant adaptation – an orchestration, reworking and as the title implies a ‘disintegration’ – of Bach’s famous solo violin chaconne by Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002). All sections of the orchestra will be kept well occupied with great solo and sectional writing, and the variety string techniques featured – Bartók pizzicato, glissando, col legno, tremolo – makes wonderful training in orchestral playing techniques for your string section.


3. Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture 20'

Opening with characteristic Tchaikovskian low clarinets and bassoons, this piece is a great one for developing some truly lush romantic legato string playing. It is also a good one via which to fine-tune intonation, color, and blend in your woodwind section. Your English horn, harp, and timpani players will be challenged, and there is much for your string section to learn in terms of orchestral technique.


4. Kabalevsky Overture to Colas Breugnon 6'

This energetic concert opener is in a fast one in a bar – a great work for developing this specific skill and strengthening students’ ability to subdivide. The contrasting middle section is a chance for your string section to shine, and the work with its rhythmic drive and fast tempo offers much to your wind and brass players in terms of developing articulation.


5. Chavez Sinfonía India 12’

This little-known work is the Mexican composer’s Symphony No. 2. Inspired by and based on tuneful native folk melodies, the work is particularly accessible for a high school orchestra. A three-movement continuous work connected without break, Sinfonía India opens with an energetic rhythmic mixed meter theme before the work transitions into a slower movement, concluding with a motoric unison tutti 6/8 rondo theme. This piece features great percussion parts, a beautiful clarinet melody, and plenty else to keep your string and brass sections happy.

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About the Author

Dr. Carolyn Watson

Dr. Carolyn Watson is an internationally renowned conductor who led her first performance tour with Encore in 2017. She has conducted orchestras throughout Europe, including the BBC Concert Orchestra and Brandenburg Symphony, and has participated in masterclasses with Marin Alsop, David Zinman, and more. Carolyn holds a PhD in Performance (Conducting) from the University of Sydney where the subject of her doctoral thesis was "Gesture as Communication: The Art of Carlos Kleiber." Read more about Carolyn on her website www.carolyn-watson.com

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