Striking a New Chord With Berlin's Young Musicians

On a rare, sun-sparked Saturday in Lichtenberg, musicians Gilles Toussaint and Natasha Jaffe sat down for something they’d never done before.

Their task? To start a youth orchestra.
Jaffe, a freelance cellist, paired up with singer/songwriter Toussaint to hold the first auditions for the new project, which they’ve called the Berliner Bären JugendOrchester. The idea came when a family friend of Jaffe’s inquired about a youth orchestra in Berlin for her daughter to participate in. But she’d encountered difficulties finding a good fit.

“We realized it was actually pretty tough to find,” said Jaffe, who’d met Toussaint at an open mic eight months ago. Most youth orchestras cater to the 18-25 age group, she explained, and are either tied to public school institutions or intensively geared toward training its students for a professional career in classical music. (Die Junge Sinfonie Berlin, for instance, has performed internationally, while der Landesmusikrat Berlin, another youth orchestra, accepts “advanced” young musicians who are often competition winners.)

Other smaller orchestral groups were mainly clustered in the west, around the Charlottenburg area. Jaffe and Toussaint wanted to provide an in-between: an inclusive place that would offer young musicians between 10 and 18 to share an orchestral experience. Depending on the diversity of skill level, Jaffe and conductor Mary-Jo Bell would rearrange scores to accommodate the range, offering a more personalized experience.

“What’s important is not to train kids to be professional musicians” 

Jaffe said after the first round of auditions, which were held at blu:boks, a community space that offers music, dance, theater and arts-related workshops for children and adolescents.

“What’s cool about youth orchestra is not just the music, but the friends and connections you make. You join to be a part of something with other like-minded kids.”

Moments earlier, 11-year old Karin Morozova had just finished her piano audition with the title track of the film Amélie, a song composed by Yann Tiersen. Shy and soft-spoken, Morozova grew quiet when it came to talking about music, and her mother stepped in to explain that her Asperger’s often entailed communicating in other, different ways—namely, through music.

“Music is something she doesn’t need to explain,” said Martina Morozova, Karin’s mother. “When she wants to express herself, she makes music. It is sometimes very difficult for children to communicate—but music gives them a different way.”

For now, the group is looking to build up a full-sized orchestra that will meet every Saturday morning, starting mid-February, for two hours at blu:boks. While rehearsals will be in German, the orchestra aims to be diverse and international; Jaffe herself was born in Canada, while Toussaint hails from Belgium. The conductor, Mary-Jo Bell, is from Australia, making English instruction and language exchange possible. The orchestra will offer two to three free concerts per year to family, friends, and the general public. And auditions remain open; Jaffe and Toussaint will also accept video or audio files for submission.

“Classical music tends to be traditional and elitist,” says Toussaint. “But we hope to break that image. We want to be open and welcoming—to provide a different kind of experience for the kids.”

Berliner Bären JugendOrchester
Möllendorffstraße 54
10367 Berlin

Audition: Please send a video or audio file with one musical piece (3-5 min) to YouTube links, WeTransfer, and Dropbox can also be used.

By Beina Xu

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