Arts & Culture

Two South Sound musicians chosen for national youth orchestra programs

Making a career in classical music can be tough — but if you have experience and connections, you’re a step ahead.

That’s the case for two young South Sound musicians selected for two prestigious national youth orchestra programs this July to get a month of professional lessons, experience and performance with all expenses paid.

Eliza Block, a 20-year-old trumpeter from Tacoma, has been awarded a fellowship with the National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Institute in Washington, D.C., while Nolan Welch, a 17-year-old cellist from Olympia, was chosen as apprentice orchestra manager for the National Youth Orchestra, both in New York and on tour to China. Both musicians leave this week.

“Getting an experience (like this) helps you become a better musician and prepares you for the future,” said Block, who just finished her freshman year studying music at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Block grew up studying piano from age 3 and violin from fifth grade, only beginning trumpet in eighth grade band at Mason Middle School. The daughter of two professional music teachers, she’s thinking of a career in music: possibly conducting or orchestral librarian.

Either way, the NSO’s four-week summer program offers her a chance to get a step ahead in the classical world by taking private lessons with principal orchestra trumpeter William Gerlach, play side-by-side with orchestra members in rehearsals, play in a brass quintet, take workshops in conducting, learn audition techniques and more. She’ll also perform in seven concerts (directed by Maryland Symphony conductor Elizabeth Schulze) at both the Kennedy Center and the United States Capitol, meeting senators and representatives.

Begun in 1993, the summer institute is highly competitive, selecting just 62 students ages 15-20 from 27 states. The fellowship program is more competitive.

For Block — the only musician from Washington selected — the highlight is the repertoire, including Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Don Juan,” for which she’ll play principal trumpet.

“I’m just looking forward to being in the whole atmosphere, being really focused on the music and getting to meet other people who love music,” Block said.

Welch, a Timberline High School senior, will be heading to New York to join the National Youth Orchestra as apprentice orchestra manager. A cello player since age 4, Welch decided to apply for the administrative position with an eye to his future career. After his upcoming music and business degree at Central Washington University, he hopes to do graduate study in music administration and work at a large performance venue.

“The orchestra manager’s job is behind the scenes, making sure artists have all the resources they need to be successful,” said Welch, who decided to go into management after the experience of managing his own public senior recital and serving on the student board of Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia. “My job, done well, is unnoticeable.”

The Carnegie Hall-organized youth orchestra, in its third year and led by acclaimed conductor Charles Dutoit, selects 114 young musicians from across the country through a series of applications, auditions and video interviews. The orchestra works in residency in Carnegie Hall in New York for two weeks, rehearsing and performing, before heading out on a two-week tour of nine cities in China. The program is free, and four other musicians from Washington (all string players) have been selected. The program includes a world-premiere commissioned from composer Tan Dun, as well as Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 5 with international soloist Yundi Li, plus Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique.”

“You get to meet people in the field and at Carnegie Hall,” Welch said of why he’s excited about the opportunity. “You learn about the logistics of touring, and that’s something I’d love to manage. There are multiple summer opportunities (for youth musicians), but this one pulls from the whole country and it’s completely free.”

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